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Of Free Will and False Agency

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You’re just so fucking done at this point. After amassing numerous friends and finally feeling like you had some kind of place in the vicious world known as Alternia, it was unceremoniously stripped away from you, leaving a gaping void in your heart and raging desire to obliterate any and all ivory spheres should you gain the power to do so. Run on sentences notwithstanding, you have been trapped in the endlessly green abode of one Mister Doc Scratch for several weeks. In the beginning you refused to even glance at the webcomic that he so “graciously” suggested (read: ordered) you to read. After your fifth attempt to leave the computer was met with the threat of a permanent loss of your legs, you finally deigned to oblige him.

And what do you get after nearly two months of reading? Taking breaks only to eat, sleep, excrete bodily fluids, and listen to the world’s shittiest host brag about himself? Eight-thousand pages of bullshit about a dozen or so people you have never met getting a happy ending that you know your wonderful friends will never live to see. On the plus side, you learned quite a bit more about the culture you had been struggling to understand. On the far outweighing and overwhelming downside, you were left with more questions than answers and a pit in your stomach. And so now, as you lie in bed awaiting some arbitrary hour to strike so that you can get your ass up and live another godforsaken day, you are stewing in your thoughts. It makes your think-pan hurt. You wince at your use of the word. You miss your friends. Your face scrunches up in pain. You only became friends with them because of him. A tear rolls down your cheek. You still miss them.

The clock in your designated room chimes the hour. Chime. Chime. Chime. Chime. Chime. Chime. Chime. Chime. Chime. Chime. Ten o’clock. Breakfast will be ready by now. You get up. Clothing is no issue, as Doc has assured you many times. But the idea of dressing up in the green garb makes you sick to your stomach. You put on the pants, begrudgingly. It’s better than no pants. You put on the undershirt. At least it’s white instead of that ugly green. Your hand hovers over Mallek’s hoodie. The first night you slept here, you were so ready to throw it away forever, its memory tainted by the knowledge you had been burdened with. It’s still hard for you to put it on, but you do so with defiance. Doc may have puppeteered you into the lives of all those trolls, but Mallek CHOSE to give you his hoodie and no smarmy asshole with a literal god complex is going to take that fact away from you.

Before you leave your room, you take a look around. Anything to put off engaging with your host. Taking note of your belongings in the room it’s in these moments that you remember that Doc Scratch, though a scoundrel and a narcissist, is not entirely unkind. He allowed you to keep what few personal items you collected on Alternia, though he refused to let you get them yourself. You even got to keep your palmhusk! You’ve been cut off from any service or wifi, of course, but it still has all its pictures and games. Doc Scratch is not entirely unkind, no. But he’s still a bastard. And whether you like it or not, he’s going to come in any minute to see if you’re coming down for breakfast. You sigh and enter the hall. Inevitability is a bitch.

As you turn toward the stairs you squeak in surprise. There is a young troll in front of you. Not exceptionally young, but definitely not an adult yet. She has curled horns like a ram or a mountain goat. Her hair is done up in a bun, Eastern Alternian style as Tegiri would call it. She’s dressed in those awful green clothes with a distinctly school-girl aesthetic. On the right side of her shirt is a symbol and for once you recognize what it is. The star sign, Aries; first in the western zodiac and the symbol shared by the Megido trolls in the webcomic Doc forced you to read. You realize this is the young troll being groomed, for purposes you still don’t entirely understand, in the god-awful, self-aggrandizing chapter about Doc himself. You don’t know her name, but you can certainly take a guess. She stares in confusion at you, like she isn’t sure what to make of you (which you’re kind of used to at this point). You mutter out a greeting. Her eyes go wide, almost as if she wasn’t expecting you to speak.

Her eyes narrow in suspicion as she glances down at the symbol on your hoodie. A question leaves her painted lips, laced with malice. “Who are you?”

The question catches you off guard. You were so used to explaining your story to everyone you met but now you aren’t so sure. In fact you’re acutely aware of just how unsure you are. Who are you? Are you even a real person? Are you just a construct made from the imagination of a bored omniscient immortal with the powers of a god? Does your existence even have meaning? You try to remember why you got on the spaceship that led you here in the first place, to remember the name you gave to everyone on Alternia. The name sweetly whispered to you in a timeline that no longer exists. You look around, panicked. You manage to speak… and for once you feel that your words are… different. Awkward. Clumsy, but distinctly your own. Yours and no one else’s.

“I-I don’t know.” You admit. Your voice sounds so alien to you.

Her eyes narrow further into a squint. “Did Doc invite you here?”

You simply nod, afraid to speak again. She scoffs and rolls her eyes. Upon closer inspection it appears that they are just beginning to fill in with her blood color.

“Welcome to chateau de douchebag, I guess. Population us.”

You offer a small smile. She scowls.

“What?” She snaps.

“N-nothing!” You stammer. You feel your throat burn with every word. “I was just trying to be polite. I, uh, find that a friendly smile can make things seem a little less shitty than they actually are.”

You wring your hands, suddenly sharply aware of how horrible you are at social interaction without the vehement need for friendship driving you to be whatever another person wants you to be. Your newfound independence scares you. The girl in front of you looks taken aback, but not in a bad way. She sighs as her mouth twists into a half-smile. It suits her.

“Damara.” She says plainly but amicably.

“What?” You ask.

“My name. It’s Damara.” She holds out her hand. Called it, you think to yourself. You take her hand and shake it.

“Nice to meet you, Damara.” Saying her name out loud seems to brighten her eyes a bit, as if she hasn’t heard it in years, er, sweeps? Is timekeeping relevant to a time-traveler? Questions for later.

“You got a name, O’ Honored Guest?” She says the title in a way that makes you laugh. She looks pleased at that.

“I think I forgot.” You shrug and sigh. “Call me whatever you like, I guess.” You’re really not picky, not anymore. But Damara’s expression falls. Pity.

“Names are important.” She says this more to herself than to you. You don’t mind. You guess it’s a touchy subject.

“Got any ideas?”

Now it’s her turn to be caught off guard. As if she’s never been asked for input or her own opinion. Her crooked smile returns in full force.

“Not at the moment, but I could come up with some!” Her expression falters. “I-if you want me to.”

You see the shift, she’s expecting rejection. You will NOT let her feel rejected. You smile brightly at her and take her hands in yours.

“I’d love that!” You see the smallest trace of red grace her cheeks as she smiles back. It almost looks like it hurts her to smile so much. You hope it doesn’t, though.

A cough from behind you sends you a few feet into the air with a shriek. Damara’s happy expression turns into a deadly glare faster than light.

“I’m certain you two were getting along, by which I mean I know you were despite my warnings to you not to interact with this person, young lady. But I do want to let you know that your breakfast is going to become cold and I would hate for my guest to miss a warm meal to start the cycle of existence.” The cue ball finishes his rant. Doc Scratch, in your personal opinion, is a well-spoken prick. He points at Damara. “Go back to your room. As inevitable as your disobedience was, it will still be punished. Your eating privileges for the day have been revoked.”

Your blood boils.

“Hold on,” You say. “If you knew she was going to do this you can’t punish her. That’s fucked up! You’re fucked up!” If he had eyes, he’d be rolling them at you now, you can feel it.

He puts his arms behind his back like a goddamn anime villain. “How I discipline my charge is none of your business. However, you are still my guest and I knew you were going to say that because it’s just the kind of person you are, so you are forgiven.” Your eye twitches. You want to punch this douchebag.

“If I’m off the hook, she’s off the hook.” You cross your arms and glare daggers at him. “You said I wasn’t leaving but good luck keeping me if you don’t treat her with the same respect you treat me.”

He looks impressed. Probably. Curse his lack of facial features. Though you have a feeling if he did, his smiles would creep you out. He puts a hand to his not-chin, in not-thought.

“Very well.” He says. “No need for dramatics. I know you’ll keep going until I give in. So I’ll allow you this small victory. But I am right and will continue to be right about one thing, my dear guest.”

For a moment your blood runs cold. Something in his voice changed with that sentence. In a flash of green he disappears. Hands grip your shoulders and in your right ear you hear him speak again. He’s behind you, how did he get behind you?

He whispers into your ear. “You are not leaving.” Out of your peripheral vision, you see another flash of green. You turn around and he’s gone, leaving you and Damara alone in the hallway.

She looks at you and you are immediately reminded of Skylla the way her eyes fill with gratitude and possibly… pride? You beam at her.

“Showed him, huh?” You say with a laugh.

She joins your laughter and for a moment it feels like everything is a lot less shitty than it actually is. When you finally calm down and the giggling stops, Damara puts a hand on your shoulder.

“Alexei.” She declares.

“What?” You so eloquently respond yet again.

“I’ve decided on a name. If you want it, it’s yours.” She looks at you with admiration and hope.

“I like it.” You say. You’re immediately reminded of the Romanovs. But you suppose it sounds like a plausible Alternian name as well. “Why that name, though?” You ask.

Damara, seemingly out of nowhere pulls out a palmhusk. Wait, this one is less bug-like, maybe it’s an actual phone. You guess she must have one of those fancy pocket dimension storage thingamajigs. She pulls up a screenshot of an elderly human man with thick glasses and a kind smile.

“This guy here. His name is Alexei Lubimov. Or was. I have no idea if he’s alive or not anymore.” She says this as if it should be recognizable to you. You decide to be honest.

“I don’t know who that is.” You expect her to frown. Or emote negatively at all. Like so many failed interactions in so many doomed timelines. She doesn’t. She smiles.

“That’s okay, he’s pretty obscure.” She shrugs and scrolls to the next screenshot. It’s a wall of text. “He’s a musician who was pretty controversial or something? I like music. But I wanted to know what his name meant because… I like names too. And I think this name suits you.” She gets a bit sheepish toward the end there (pun completely intended. No offense to Damara, but you’ve been holding that one in for a while.)

“So what does it mean?” You nod in encouragement.

Her crooked smile returns and it’s every bit adorable as it was the last time. She dismisses the phone into her whatever the kids call it and grabs your hand as she starts to lead you down the stairs so you can actually eat. She turns back to look at you and smiles again.


She turns her head forward as you descend. You feel a blush in your cheeks and a warmth in your heart.

Your name (for now) is Alexei. You’re a human being who was trapped on a hostile alien planet due to the machinations of a raving madman-cue ball thing. During your time on said planet you made many friends by the whim of said madman-cue ball. Now trapped in the mansion of the douchebag who manipulated you and forced you to read a shitty webcomic you find yourself in a strange position. You’ve made a friend. And this time, it’s no simulation.