Pairing: When pigs fly
Warnings: Excessive philosophising
Feedback: Suggestions for improvement always welcome
For the "Beginnings" challenge.
Endings are easy.
Beginnings, however, are tricky things. Difficult to pinpoint. Reluctant to be extracted from the cascade of cause and effect.
Two people are swept away by an avalanche. Did it start with the crack of a falling rock, startling in the white stillness? Or with the footfall that dislodged it? Or with the decision that sent the owner of the foot up the mountain in the first place?
The trouble with history is that it is made out of people. And people make choices.
Does it start here, with the dislodging of a pebble?
Captain Waverly ducks back into the trench as the stuttering rifle's rapid rattle signals a spray of bullets across No Man's Land. It's only one rifle, one last defiant pocket of resistance. Silence this one and they'll have gained mastery of the Jerry trench. At the cost of a mere 30,000 lives.
Exercising due caution, he sticks his head up above the wall of mud.
"Geben Sie auf!" he shouts, as the rifle falls silent. Its owner is reloading. Or out of ammo, although that's probably too much to hope for. "Sie sind der Letzte! Geben Sie auf!"
For a long moment he listens into the silence, the wind whistling around his ears. Then there's a crack and the ground beside his head spits up a mouthful of mud.
Waverly ducks back down into the sheltering trench, and pulls the pin out of a hand grenade with his teeth.
There has to be a better way than this, he thinks, as the little pineapple arcs through the air.
Or does it start here, at the moment when the crack of stone against rock echoes around the peaks?
Gabhail Samoy stands on the border watching the refugees, a diffuse flame of anger burning within him. In both directions, the columns stretch out to the dusty horizon, Hindus struggling into India, Muslims into what will tomorrow be Pakistan. Stupid. Stupid. Their shoulders are bowed with the weight of their disposession, their faces twisted with hatred. He turns to General Muburakh, standing beside him.
"We have had our chance," he says, and his words seem to shimmer in the heat, "And we have done no better than the British. Nationalism has failed us. There has to be a better way."
Or here, when the vast slab of snow groans into movement?
General Tarkovsky walks through the remains of the village in utter silence, the aide beside him barely daring to breathe, as he waits for the inevitable explosion. Alexei Tarkovsy, the Georgian Bear, one of Chairman Stalin's few close friends, and the man with the shortest temper on the general staff. A man to take things personally.
"Thrush, you say?"
The tone is even, but the aide still flinches. "As far as we can tell, sir. We believe they're testing some kind of earthquake machine."
"This is the third incident this year."
"And yet we still have no intelligence reports on them."
"They operate out of the West, sir. The UNCLE keeps tabs on them but they won't hand the information over to non-member states, and given the current political climate..."
"What are you implying, Lieutenant?"
"Well, we can hardly be expected to contribute an agent to a non-Soviet organisation."
There are worse ways of dealing with a village full of dead children than rigid adherence to the party line, but right now, Tarkovsky can't think of one. He turns to face his aide, and his voice is as flat as the steppe.
"The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Get me Comrade Stalin on the phone."
Or here, at the crossroads to the road across the mountain?
General Finch glares at Colonel Morgan from behind the safety of his desk. He doesn't even touch the file the Colonel is holding out to him.
"I don't care who his grandfather is, Morgan," he says, between clenched teeth. "I am not having Solo on my staff."
"He's a good soldier," says Morgan obstinately.
"A good soldier, Colonel, is not undisciplined, is not argumentative, and does not regard orders as some kind of option. Solo always thinks he can come up with a better way of doing things, and maybe he can, but that's not the way the army works. And you know what? Grandfather or no grandfather, I'm going to write that in every application he ever puts in, anywhere. If there's one thing I can't stand, it's a smartass."
Or is the true beginning the moment when the final choice is made, when there can be no more branching off from the path?
Illya walks through corridors lined with steel, like a trap, or a nightmare. Women hurry past him, their faces thick with make-up, their clothes clinging to every curve of their bodies. It isn't anything like the KGB headquarters in Moscow. It isn't anything like Cambridge. It's America, the heart of capitalist imperialism, and just as decadent as he's been led to believe.
Outside Waverly's office he hesitates, prepared for hostility and preparing to offer it, but the door slides open without his volition, disappearing into the wall like a sword down a sword-swallower's throat. No time to brace himself for the encounter. Waverly he recognises, but the man next to him, in a dark suit with radiant shirtcuffs, is a stranger.
A stranger who holds out his hand and smiles.
His grip is warm and firm, and there is no hint of antagonism in his eyes. Slowly, reluctantly, Illya smiles back. Perhaps, after all, this is the better way.