Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A New Deal

The desert vehicle should have gone unnoticed against the dark background as it meandered its way through trash city’s dunes of refuse. What lent the early hour scene a surreal air was the gaggle of impressively dresses passengers; their glimmering gowns and pressed suits stood in stark contrast with these surroundings. The partygoers were quiet, each deep in thought. Gone was the mirth of the preceding evening. As the Antelope came to a rest inside the protective enclosure of the caravan compound, the elegant party dispersed.

“Let me know if I can do anything for her,” Helen called out to Gade, who was already nearly out of earshot of her concerned whisper. A slight turn of his head and a subdued raised hand in appreciation was his silent response.

“Thank you, Kain, for accompanying me tonight, and for safeguarding my honour.” She had removed her heels with a wince and now was barely shoulder height to the caravan leader. Though her words were said lightly, her face, radiant in the light of the second rising moon, betrayed a troubled spirit.

Seeing Kain about to speak, she silenced him with her hand, which rose at first to his lips with one outstretched finger but faltered in mid flight and settled for a brief caress of his chest before dropping away altogether. Her painted eyes had follow the motion, first looking him directly in his eyes, but unable to maintain his gaze she let them fall over his shoulder and elegant jacket before finding her own feet peeking out from her under her gown. They stood in silence for a moment.

“You looked very handsome tonight” she said under her breath, still avoiding his frank visage, before escaping the gravity of their proximity.

She scurried into the dark, leaving him alone to feel her absence. As Kain entered his longrunner he noted a flicker of light and movement, instinctively he placed his hand on the only available weapon, his dress sabre. A familiar face was easily recognisable, illuminated as it was by the computer pad in his hand. Though Kain had made no discernable sound entering, Doctor Chambers looked up from his medical research with a casual air. “Hello Kain” said the seated physician evenly before he thumbed his data pad and extinguished the readout and the only light in the room, plunging them into darkness.

"Doctor." Kain palmed the switch, bringing the room's lights up to about half illumination. Unhooking his dress sword, he hung it from a hook, removed his jacket, and settled into the other chair. A quick survey indicated that nothing was out of place. "A shade dramatic, don't you think? No matter. We have a number of things to discuss.

I think it's time we reviewed our business relationship. In conversation with Ellen, you have made mention of the fact that you wish to keep the BCG and this caravan separate. I wish the opposite. Not entirely the opposite, but consider this. I don't think you're cut out to continue this relationship with New Baja. Not that you're not capable, but rather that it's not fulfilling. There's a larger picture out here in the Badlands, larger than either of us realized, and we are uniquely placed to participate in a developing environment.

You and I have been operating as partners of a sort, and I would like to refine that arrangement. I want to sever reporting ties to NB and strike out on our own. I want us to be full partners in this endeavour, expanding on our original goals of trade, Badlands development, and intelligence.

We have the capital necessary to repay the upfront costs advanced by New Baja, and to continue to operate the caravan for some time. Now is an opportune time to make the break.

The benefits for you are primarily in terms of autonomy and ownership. No more answering back to a distant master. Also, I think you'll find a little more soul in what I'm proposing. You're a part of this caravan, Doctor, and if you embrace that, you'll be repaid tenfold.

The benefit to me...well, shall we say that I get to maintain the status quo, with improved independence? I'll confess, Doctor, that things won't change appreciably for me. As you no doubt suspect, I have been running my own agenda in parallel to the BCG's and your own for some time. Well, since the beginning, of course. I assure you, at no time have I operated at odds with your interests; merely, in addition to. This agenda has not been for profit or self-aggrandizement.

I have been developing the same intelligence network that I promised I would, as well as conducting a little shadow work on the side. Most recently, I obtained a list of CEF agents and their current identities. I mean to eliminate these targets. I want your help. More specifically, I want you onboard on the larger project of securing the Badlands as much as possible against the coming CEF re-invasion."

Tom didn’t move, at first no change was apparent is his demeanour or expression. He just sat there and soaked it in. He had just been inundated with information; he was barely treading.

“I thought you were going to chastise me for my little disappearance. I had this whole speech prepared where I reminded you that I hired the caravan and that you had to report information to me, not the other way ‘round. I then expected you to make some cynical or threatening remark, most likely both and I would have been happy to dissolve our current relationship.”

Tom closed his eyes, leaned his head back and let out a long sigh.

“Dramatic, yes a little, but it seems in keeping with the recent caravan shenanigans. I’ve been on the outside since we took to the road together, it was mostly my own doing, I realise that now, but our agreement was based on carefully negotiated mercantile bonds, not trust, not purpose.

I’ve already decided to pay back New Baja for the advance; I’ve got some intel to give Dunn for his trouble and I intend to safeguard my interests and their freedoms as best I can by watching over them, but I agree that there are larger concerns than just those of New Baja and that they are out here.”

Tom opened his eyes again and let out a snicker.

“You talked of what I have to gain. This is your approach to persuade me is it? Tell me how I will benefit from a new partnership because you see me as a capitalist, you think that I will only understand terms in red and black is that it? No, that’s just the opener, the clincher is the caravan. You’re appealing to me emotionally. Well bravo, hit the head on the nail there! Yeah, I care for these people; I care so much it scares me.

I let Emile die, I let Lelland die, I can’t help Sam and now Nat…not-- no, never mind. They all believe in you, they trust you and follow your leadership by force of conviction and devotion alone. Why should they follow me? Why, pray tell, should I follow you?

You’ve never given me any reason to trust you Kain, you’ve been condescending towards me, intimidated me and threatened me. So why is it I think there is more to you, something that speaks of a kindred mind? Please don’t answer, I think I am in much too fragile an emotional state to hear you agree with me that we are alike, it would crush me. So now you ask for my help.”

Tom got up from his chair, put down the pad and looked at the wall of the truck they were in, his hand moved along rough surfaced, at last he turned back towards Kain and in a fierce tone continued.

“I really had it all planned Kain, you really pissed me off you know that? Changing everything! Asking for my help, leaving me to protect them, those people who owe me nothing more than what I paid them. And now, now I …why Kain, why tell me about the CEF? Is that the final sales pitch? Scare me, put it all in perspective, tell me what I will loose? All my plans, all my conniving, wheeling and dealing won’t be worth tamaru terd!”

Tom Chambers slumped forward, leaning his head into his palms; he massaged his eyes slowly, moving out to his temples. He had well laid plans for how this conversation should have unfolded but Kain set a match to them and in their pyre Tom’s anguish, uncertainties and misgiving poured on like fuel and in the end he had spent himself, burned down to nothing but embers.

Kain eyed him for a few moments; he had never seen the Doctor like this: vulnerable. Kain had thought he could convince the Mekong entrepreneur based on the merits of a sound business proposal. Now he could see that he had to change his approach. The Doctor had changed, and their relationship had to change too. A new tactical reality called for new tactics. The truth would have to do….


I don't know what to tell you. I'm telling you about the CEF because it has become apparent that I can trust you. And I need you.

There are things afoot right now that terrify me. But I know that I have skills that can be put to use to fight that terror. There are a number of things that I have concealed from you, Tom, and a smaller number that I must continue to hide. But there are two things I want you to know.

By now you know that I've always been political. Ben will tell you about our university days together. More than that, before I was ever in the army, I was an ideological soldier. I took some of that with me to the classroom, but not so much as to make me part of the propaganda apparatus. It is important for you to know that I believed in the South.

When the CEF landed, my reserve status meant activation. I joined gladly; here was an enemy that stood in opposition and as a threat to everything I loved and believed in. I threw myself into the military milieu with a purpose. And it turned out that I was an excellent soldier. The farther I got from my books, the finer my killing edge was ground."

Kain looked away. He could see banners, uniforms; hear the sounds of parade and strife.

"My belief made me an instrument of war, Doctor. A weapon. And I placed myself in the hands of those I believed in, the cause, the purpose, the State. I let them wield me. I detached from analysis and critical thinking about why. I focussed on how.

And this brings us to the second thing you must know about me. The problem, and the advantage, of weapons is that they do not judge their purpose. They are merely an extension of the will of their wielder. And so it was that, as a weapon in the arsenal of the Southern Republic against the CEF, I became a murderer.

I have no issue with killing, as such. I've shed blood enough to make Macbeth a saint. But murder...this murder…is something else.

The actual body count was not high; in terms of collateral damage, we certainly killed more people during the liberation of Baja by accident than we did during these missions on purpose. But one was too many."

Kain fixed on Tom again. His eyes were unguarded. "I don't tell you this as a confession, and I do not seek absolution. But I want you to understand, Tom, that ever since...ever since then, I've been resolved to do my best to help these people. Every Badlander I can protect, I will. It's coming again. The Earth will return, and everything I can do now to fight them will make it that much harder for them when they do.

I am my own master now. I choose the targets, I decide the why. And the what. And I know in my heart that this project, everything we've been doing, this has to be done, must be done.

To do it, I need your help."

Doctor Tomohiro Chambers was no longer fitful; his body was still, his breath even. He took in what Kain Delacroix told him, not just the words but their conviction and the spirit of the man who had spoken them. Tom was many things, a healer by profession, an entrepreneur by nature but he had never been an idealist. His actions were guided by immediate outcomes, although he could see ten steps ahead of most, he saw no path.

Kain had been an idealist and he had paid a high personal price for that idealism, but Tom now knew that to be entirely devoid of an ideal might lead him down the same road. Actions must be based on more than outcome, or ideals, to be true you must have intent. Somewhere in the frigid recesses where Tom dispassionately calculated odds, reasoned costs and anticipated outcomes -the core that drives a man to act as he does- something emerged from the dark: a nascent but cold-forged pillar of resolve.

“Ok, I want to help.”


Hermes 72 - Heavy Gear RPG - Most artwork Copyright 2002 Dream Pod 9, Inc.