In this series, I’ve been demonstrating how individuals from collectivist and individualist cultures react differently to similar stimuli. It’s been a fun writing prompt for me, and I hope it’s been fun for you to read as well. Today’s individualist/collectivist difference is attitude toward authority, and what kind of actions get rewarded by the narrative.
As a reminder, you can check out my first Thinking Across Cultures post for the writers’ guide to how these two types of cultures are different, then check out the second and third posts for the beginning of Kiwa and Tika’s adventures.
The mountains were cold and terrible and so far from home. Kiwa shivered, as she had so often for the past three months, as Commander Shoto led them in single file along yet another steep twisting path that looked like it hadn’t been used for years by anyone but goats. They had yet to find any sign of the cursed raised or their cursed camp, but Shoto was confident that they would, and soon. “We are the Emperor’s Riders,” he reminded them every day. “We cannot fail.”
In spite of her exhaustion and half-frozen limbs, Kiwa believed him. What else could she do? Without faith in the Emperor, without faith in their commander and in each other, she and her comrades would have nothing. Would be nothing. No, they would find the raiders. Kiwa just hoped it would be soon, while they still had strength left to fight.
Suddenly, an arrow buzzed through the air in front of her and buried itself in a nearby bush. Kiwa yelled an alarm, drawing her bow and looking to Shoto.
“Mano, Woti, Doto, with me!” the young commander ordered, his voice thunder-strong with authority. “We’ll find them. Kiwa, Jani, Sano, stay here and draw their fire!”
Another two arrows hissed down from a gap in the cliff face. Kiwa saw and pointed; Jani and Sano followed her finger. “In the name of the Emperor, surrender yourselves!” Jani shouted up the mountain. An enraged cry in a foreign tongue came in response, along with three more arrows fired in quick succession. As the archers exchanged fire, Shoto and his three bladesmen disappeared up the trail.
“How many do you think?” Kiwa asked, firing an arrow of her own up toward the gap. Her aim was true, and cries of alarm came in return.
“Three, perhaps?” Sano guessed.
“Enough to tell us where their camp is,” Jani said. She cursed as another arrow zinged past her head. “Assuming that Shoto finds them before they shoot us all.”
“Raiders can’t shoot a yak at ten paces,” Sano assured her. “Three of them against three of us? They don’t stand a chance.”
“To the right!” Kiwa shouted, a sudden movement catching her eye. Sano spun and let loose an arrow – a man in rough skins plunged forward from his hiding place among the rocks above them. A moment later, a horn sounded, followed by a hail of arrows from two directions. They hit the rocks and dirt before and behind and all around them. One buzzed past Kiwa, and she felt a sudden pain in her ear. Next to her, Jani gasped in pain as one hit her in the leg.
“Six on the ridge there!” Sano shouted. “Fall back! Take cover!”
“No!” Kiwa shouted back. Now that Sano pointed the raiders out, Kiwa could see them. She ran forward, toward the mountain, zig-zagging as she had been taught as she closed distance. She fired up, toward the raiders raiders, which prompted a new storm of arrows. “Shoto told us to draw their fire!”
“Shoto didn’t know there were so many!”
“Less talking, more shooting!” Jani snapped. Blood ran down her leg, but she didn’t seem to notice. “Do your duty, Sano!” As she spoke, she snapped arrow after arrow from her bow. One of the raiders fell, then another. That left three that Kiwa could see.
Her mouth tight and her heart pounding in her ears, Kiwa fired again and again. She shot toward the crevice in the rock to their left, toward the ledge on their right, always moving, always making noise and drawing the attention of the raiders and trying not to think about the very real possibility that the next breath might be her last. To her left, she saw Sano yelling and firing, his voice quaking with fear but filled with passion nonetheless. The sight filled Kiwa with new bravery. If they died, they would die doing their duty.
And then the familiar battle-cry sounded on the wind: “For the Emperor!”
A new sound joined it, the clash of blades and the cries of death, and Kiwa cheered with her comrades. With renewed vigor, they fired toward the ridge and the last raiders standing there, leaving those in the cliff to Shoto and his deadly bladesmen.
The battle was over in just a few more minutes. Archers were no match for bladesmen, and raiders were no match for the riders of the Emperor. Kiwa’s heart swelled with pride as she, Sano, and a limping Jani joined Shoto up on the hidden ledge from which the raiders had attacked.
“Well done,” Shoto said, nodding to the three of them. “The archers were so fixed on you, they didn’t see us coming. Your devotion in the face of danger honors your families, your clan, and the Emperor.”
Though Kiwa carefully didn’t look at Sano, she could feel his discomfort. “We are all honored to serve you and the Emperor,” she said, bowing. Shoto nodded, and turned away.
Sano caught Kiwa’s eye, gratitude in his expression. She nodded back to him. There was no reason for the commander to know that Sano had questioned his orders on the field. They had done their duty, the battle was won, and that was all that mattered.
The mountains of Ares V were cold and terrible, and a long way from Space Station Kronos. With every step along this miserable planet’s deserted peaks, Tika cursed her aching feet, her half-frozen limbs, and especially the blasted arms-smugglers who had picked this forsaken snowy peak as their base. Her mission was unfortunately clear: find and destroy the smugglers’ base of operations before they could find and destroy her ship. This was the third such mission she’d been sent on in as many months, and the first in which she’d been assigned a partner.
“Come on, Sanno,” Tika called over her shoulder, beckoning to the large-muscled munitions expert with her blaster. “I want to be out of here by dark.”
“Then you can haul the fireworks factory on your back,” Sanno retorted, picking his way through the mounds of snow that drifted around them in the wind. “I’m coming as fast as I can.”
Tika rolled her eyes. “Then make as fast as you can faster.” She glanced at her watch and picked up the pace. “I’m guessing we have four hours before their instruments notice our ship’s signal, and maybe fifteen minutes after that before they shut down operations. We need to get there before that.”
“Wait.” Sanno stopped and crossed his arms. “We’re going in by daylight?”
“I’m certainly not creeping around these icy ravines at night!”
“But our orders – ”
Tika told Sanno what he could do their orders. “The brass only care that we get the job done. And I don’t like sneaking around at night. Too many ways to fall down a rat-hole and die, and that’s in addition to getting slagged by friendly fire, or unfriendly fire. I prefer to see who I’m shooting at, thanks.”
“That’s not the way Commander Monson said we should approach –”
Tika sighed. “Is Commander Monson here? Did he have any idea when he gave us our briefing that the base was located on top of a blasted mountain? No. Because we just found that out when we scanned this miserable planet two hours ago. Do you know who sneaks around mountains at night? People with a death wish. Now let’s go. My blaster’s getting itchy for some action.”
Tika turned and shuffled onward through the snow. She listened hard and smiled to herself as she heard Sanno’s booted feet tramping along behind her. He wasn’t a bad guy, just a tad rigid. Tika pulled her binoculars from her fur-lined pocket – according to the ship’s computer, the base was located just south of their position, about another mile away.
Zap! The unmistakable sound of blaster fire made Tika drop her binoculars and shoulder her gun. “Sanno! Get down!”
The large man had already shrugged off his highly explosive pack and was fumbling for his sidearm.
Zap! Tika followed the shot with her eyes – the shooter was above them, in a narrow mountain crevice. Along with…Her eyes widened.
“New plan, Sanno,” she shouted. “Get ready to run!” She fired three shots in quick succession. The first hit the shooter in the chest. The second hit the equipment he had evidently been using. The third hit a pile of ice and snow just above them. The mountainside began to rumble, then shift.
“Did you just–”
“Less talking, more running!” Tika yelled, already moving. “We have an avalanche to worry about.”
Sanno ran. That didn’t stop him from sputtering his protests. “Why in blazes–”
“He was recording, blockhead! His friends are going to come check it out, and the less evidence we give them, the better. If they think he got hit by a freak avalanche, they won’t be expecting us. If we left him there, nice and neat for them to find, with shot-up or disabled transmission equipment, we’d be dead meat.”
Behind them, a roar of snow poured over the path that they had just taken.
“You know,” Sanno said, slowing down, “that’s actually pretty clever.”
Tika gave him a lopsided smile. “That’s why the brass recruited me for this job.” She patted her gun. “Well, that, and my eye with a blaster.”
“And your gentle spirit and humility,” Sanno noted wryly.
“Shut up,” Tika said. She shouldered her gun and pointed toward the camp. “We still have a base to take out. You ready?”
“As ready as you are.”
“Then let’s go blow up some guns.”