Husband and wife make their way to the deck, catching the fresh salty breeze of the morning air. Yukio slowly takes a sip of black coffee while Maya rubs her head. “I’m getting too old for this.” She complains, struggling with her hangover.
Yukio prods her with a gentle question. “Maybe we should talk about what happened yesterday.”
Maya gives him an acid smile. “Sure. I was too mean to the old man, a legitimate military target. Yes, he ruined the lives of a billion people and was destroying the planet, but he cried about the whales, so it balances out. Nobody is perfect.”
“You killed his son, an enemy combatant, which is obviously understandable.” Yukio says. “But did you really have to rub it in his face throughout the duel?”
“You’re right.” Maya retorts. “I should spare my enemy’s feelings. I wouldn’t want to demoralize an enemy fighter too much. I need to be gentle, go to therapy with him, mind his delicate mental health, you know, give him a chance to kill me.”
Now Yukio is getting a headache. “It’s not really about that. I fear all these things are symptoms of something else. I’d call it your moral compass or the state of your soul if I was a Christian. I feel like you’re losing you’re normalizing psychopathy and losing your humanity. I wonder if you really care about all the people you’re fighting for.”
Maya does understand what he is saying, feeling the same worries herself, but another part of her thinks holding on to ideal morals will be too brittle for her struggles ahead. And too old. And false. She tries explaining her feelings to Yukio but completely misfires. “There is no point in behaving in a perfectly moral way if the high mages still control the world and drive the planet to destruction. We are at war, so strategy takes precedence. Ideals, and that includes moral ideals, are tools. You need to use them to mobilize an army to win. That is a fact. I wish I could hold fast to moral ideals but I’m too disillusioned. It won’t win a war.”
Yukio does not believe she truly values moral ideals, and so he jumps at her because of his suspicion. “So you believe the ends justify the means?”
It is a gotcha question, and Maya knows it. So she answers it the way she always does, and it is certainly not by evading it. “I do.” She replies, smirking in the most obnoxious way she can.
“Mathias believes the means justify the ends.” Yukio says.
“Mathias is a fool.”
“I believe the same thing he does.”
“You’re an idiot too.”
An awkward silence follows. The sun climbs the horizon throughout the argument. The black ocean turns wine dark, then midnight blue, then a solid dark blue. A comrade spots an island, rousing everyone on board of its presence.
Maya continues, “You don’t need a Millennium Item to predict how things will go down. Heroes are predictable, reactive creatures. Mathias will object to my ‘cruel’ methods because that’s what heroes do. Yugi and Jonouchi won’t show up until the very last moment. In another universe, Yugi will believe in the Heart of the Cards or Atem will give him an eleventh hour superpower to reform me and kill Yifan. But we don’t play by those rules. The heroes will fail.”
“By ‘we’ I assume you mean Yifan and yourself.” Yukio shoots back. “In case you forgot, according to the Millennium Necklace you destroyed, Yifan will win. Where did you predict that in your master plan?”
Maya has no answer.
Yukio continues, “You act like you’re in a grand Shadow Game RPG against Yifan, but you’re not. People are not expendable pawns or NPCs. Hashtag their lives matter.”
Maya becomes indignant. “Yifan thinks our revolution is a game, not me! I need to follow my plan if me or Sofia are to defeat her one day. The only reason she hasn’t pulled a Maleficent and burned the whole planet by now is because she would get bored. As long as I work towards killing her one day, she will think me a worthy opponent and give us odds to keep things interesting. You’ll thank me later when it’s all over and I’m finally dead. Then you’ll be happy.”
“So she is the cat. You’re the mouse.” Yukio says in disgust. “And poor Sofia is… The dog that chases the cat? I don’t know. The analogy is falling apart.”
“We’re more like the Sith Rule of Two.” Maya comments. “Complete with fiery red swords, dark magic powers, an edgy philosophy, and arguably we are necessary as we are evil – in the Nietzschean sense of the course, not the dumb Christian or democratic sense.”
“I really hate you sometimes.” Yukio mutters.
“Then why don’t you divorce me?” Maya challenges him. “Our marriage is only a week old. Cut ties with me while it’s thin. It’s not Britney-Jason marriage short, but it would give the rest of Hollywood a run for its money.”
Yukio spills out more of what is on his mind. “You know what really hurts me?” He pauses to properly form his ideas. “I’m assuming you know the Becky and Stacy memes. Becky is the bookish, introverted, artsy girl, somewhat pretty but unkempt and not too attractive. Stacey is the alpha bitch, with high heels, fake tan, fake hair, fake tits, immensely popular, extroverted, has men waiting on her every move.”
“Of course I know who Becky and Stacey are. What’s your point?”
“When I first met you, I saw this intelligent girl who had an artist’s sensitivity and talent but who was also brilliant and fun. I cannot conceive of that girl doing the things you do now. I thought you were a real Becky, like my ex Jolene, but now I think you were a Stacey trapped in a Becky the whole time.”
Maya laughs ruefully, almost with scorn. “Sweetheart, Becky and Stacey are a false dichotomy; they don’t exist. You act like you’re still in high school. Grow up. You fell in love with me when I was being a so-called ‘Stacey’, not ‘Becky’. We entered a relationship when we were in Egypt, when I did many ruthless, violent things. We got down last night after I killed an old man in a card game. You consider yourself a feminist, don’t you?”
Maya says, “You like a strong, independent woman, but your idea of her is a ‘hipster girl’ or a ‘spooky girl’. Spouting progressive talking points and threatening to hex someone are cute, but there is nothing striking or unique about it. When you see an actual strong woman, like me or Yifan, you reel back in disgust, even though it’s what you really want. You probably see Yifan as bourgois, conventional, and arrogant, and me as a ‘Stacey’, even though we are none of these things. Again, grow up.”
“You kill scores of people every weekend.” Yukio counterattacks with indignation. “Spreading war, violence, disaster, insurrection, chaos, disease, and death are your job. You are not a woman! You are a beast! And Yifan – what you’re – say!” He needs to take a moment to properly speak again. “She is a vile snake who likes playing with her food before she eats it, at best! At worst, she takes nothing seriously, because it’s all a bad joke to her! Don’t talk to me about how nuanced Yifan really is when she is the source of evil tearing this world apart!”
Maya finishes her coffee. “Not like you can count on a man to do a monster’s job anyway.”
Yukio tries to crack Maya’s armor, a task he imagines to be as difficult as mounting a hedgehog. “I’m not in the mood to spar with words. I’m being very serious right now. I’m worried about what you have done and what you are becoming. How can you fight for the rights and well-being of Earth’s poorest against the one percent when you act as callously and flippantly as the world’s richest CEOs? I don’t want to lose the woman I fell in love with.”
Maya clasps Yukio’s hands, her face almost penitent in its expression. “And here is my serious response. I would normally say it’s all just an act: to be as cavalier and bold as possible to put fire in the hearts of people. That is indeed true, but there is more to it. I don’t think I can live by the values we have anymore. It’s not enough if I am to somehow transcend to new heights as a musician, as a duelist, as a ‘beast’: in short, as a ‘creative being’, if you could call me that. Yifan, evil as she is, has a point in her worldview. You can’t be too righteous these days. You’ll lose either your sanity or your ability to truly understand this world.”
“So it’s all about you and your creative power?” Yukio asks.
“Yes, mine and Sofia’s.” Maya confirms. “It always has been.”
While Yukio deeply disagrees with Maya’s priorities, he does respect her on some level. He gently puts his hands on Maya’s cheeks. “You straddle a very thin line between light and darkness. It’s like you are walking a tightrope. Promise me you won’t lose yourself and fall.”
Maya kisses her husband’s hands. “I promise.”
The island becomes close enough for a man to swim to it. Maya strips naked and jumps in the water, ridding herself of yesterday’s sewer grime. Yukio throws everything in the air. He strips naked and followers her. A comrade, the one who spotted the island earlier, scratches his head but doesn’t care enough to think about it any further.
Everyone arrives to the shore, setting up a small camp, then search the jungle for some fruit and other provisions. Maya and Yukio get new clothes and spend the morning fishing, yielding enough food for themselves and a few of the hungriest people. Yukio and several comrades return to the computers in the boat, resetting the special incognito network they used to communicate with each other before. So far, nothing.
Maya thinks it appropriate to create a memorial for all the soldiers who died in battle. She conceives an idea and leads her comrades in carrying many rocks, big and small, from around the shore to set up an artwork. Midday passes to night. Yukio leaves the boat to see a large mound, the sharp rocks making it look like a mountain with jagged peaks. Everyone puts a small object dear to them, even if it is but a trinket, at the top of the mound, each one representing the fallen comrades.
Maya ignites one of the torches on the mound, which spreads through the grass and all the other torches, transforming the memorial into a blazing mountain. Touched by such a creative act, Yukio clasps Maya’s hand and invents poetry off the top of his head:
Men who drowned in the wat’ry deep,
Now soar upwards t’wards the sky.
We stop our climb and fall asleep.
Tomorrow we soar on high.
The rebel band spontaneously match the words with music, creating a song. While it is not amazing, even corny, it is heartfelt. Everyone sings and sways in unison, not unlike the orchestra, that great symbol of a democratic community as Maya thinks it, voices and flames climbing to the many stars above. Most comrades see the full night sky and the Milky Way for the very first time. Maya feels like she can somehow be drawn towards the stars just by staring at them long enough and letting go. This gives her an idea just as everyone goes to bed.
Yukio wakes up the next day, groping at the empty space by his side, expecting Maya to be there. Just when he thought he could trust Maya, when he could give his heart to her, she burns it! He sees many pebbles carefully arranged on the sand, a long chain of numbers that he presumes are geographic coordinates. Maya must have given him the location of the rendezvous point for the rebel fleets.
Wait, but how? Yukio is left scratching his head.
But there is more. He sees letters forming a puzzling sentence: The sky is the limit.