Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Crisis of Doubt

Kain walked through the office doors armed with a scathing remark that had come to him as he sat alone over breakfast. He found his target missing and after collecting a mug of cawfee he had soon covered the entire B.C.G. offices in search of his quarry to no avail. Annoyed and bored - a state he seemed to be in most of the time of late - he walked into Tom’s office.

“Where’s Vemeer? I had something to say to him.”

“I gave him the day off, he’s been working hard.”

Kain was a battle hardened veteran with sure hands, so Tom’s gregarious act towards Vemeer did not shock him into dropping his cawfee. However, his expression did let slip what his sure hands did not. The Doc was sitting back in his chair with eyes closed and so he couldn’t appreciate Kain’s shock, which as a consequence gave way to annoyance.

“Who are we targeting today? The Saracens? Observing the Salon Rouge?”

“Nothing, no one, we quit.” Tom righted himself in his chair and looked Kain in the eye to gauge his reaction. What he found was mild surprise. It was not in Kain’s nature to give up easily, so despite some underlying indifference he pressed Tom for more information.

“What happened? Did you get us fired, did you do have a Dr. Chambers ego attack?”

“I guess I did. I made some demands. I asked the FE to present me with a constitution guaranteeing democracy for the Sajhalin.”

Kain sat back and smiled as he sipped his drink, thinking that maybe the Doc was in an entertaining mood after all. But Tom’s expression was earnest.

“You did what?” Kain said, after a beat. He spoke slowly and quietly; his tone was that of morbid curiosity. “I'm disappointed with your romantic lack of common sense, Doctor. What would Sajhalin do with voting rights? A piece of paper does not a constituency make from a class of subservient serfs. It's patently idiotic. So--you quit before they fired us.”

“Not quite, I then asked, or rather demanded, that DuBeau-Slovenski provide me with a contract stating that the proceeds of the Free Emirates arms deal would be earmarked for worker caste social programs.”

Kain had very steady hands. There was certainly an angle here, something the Doc was playing at, but Kain had never been intent enough on this mission to Peace River to try and figure it out.

“She said no, I presume. And what exactly was the point of this scheme?”

“She hasn’t answered me. Neither has Mme Hiro, so I sent them a report of the Warrior IV plot this morning and said we were no longer offering our services. It wasn’t a scheme; it was what I was in this for. Without it....” Tom shrugged.

“So you actually expected them to give you assurances that this was all for a higher moral cause? Doctor, I admire the boldness that insanity has imparted you with,” Kain said with equal parts sarcasm and admiration for Tom’s naïve requests.

Tom’s data glove gave him a dermal sign warning of a news feed; he touched his screen and scrolled down the information, his head shaking before he was finished reading. “As a rule I don’t share your misplaced admiration for the SRID. But, I have to admit, at least they know how to run intelligence operations. The POC just raided the Salon Rouge, which is either bad timing or we were followed yesterday.”

“First they kill Anizev and blow the Nipple operation, and now they raid the Rouge. Muppets.” Kain shook his head. “Anyway” he continued “it’s not our problem anymore. We should turn our attention to the Forzi situation.”

“What for? The Forzi in Wounded Knee haven’t responded to my calls. They don’t give a damn about Peace River--either that, or they’ve given up. The BRF run the show and the BRF are PaxSec’s problem.”

“Frankly, Doctor, Peace River is too big to simply ignore. I understand that you’ve just been burned, but we have the bigger picture to worry about. Underworld contacts in Peace River are critical to future Guild operations.” Not to mention Kain's own continuing mission.

Tom nodded dejectedly, his eyes once again closed. He knew Kain was right, again. The whole ultimatum of conscience was misguided. And yet, he couldn’t fault himself for trying. “Kain, can I ask you a question? What were you here for?”

“I thought we were going on a vacation.”

“Seriously, you don’t care about the Free Emirates, we don’t owe Mme Hiro a damned thing. I know I told you we were getting a cut of the arms deal, but you must have seen through that?”

“The Free Emirates revolt is strategically important, and we’ve worked with Paxton before. But I expected you were playing some kind of angle here, Doctor. I didn’t expect this to be so...altruistic.”

“You mean naïve, that’s OK. Go on,” the Doc interjected.

“Still, this was something you had to do, so I was going to back you. I have my objectives, you have yours. Simple reciprocity. Partnership if you will.”

“I’m touched. Reciprocity, eh? Well I wanted this to mean something. Ever since Okavango, I’ve wanted my actions to mean something. Since before Oka, before the ESE in fact.”

There was a long pause as both men sat in silence. When Tom started up again, it was as if he was finishing aloud some inner thoughts.

“Strategy failed me in Lance Point. I manipulated events so they would have some kind of meaning. Workers were going to die--it was just a question of at whose hands. So I orchestrated it to strengthen NuCoal instead of destroying it. It’s like you said to Strauss the other day, about how being big picture good guys makes us look like little picture bad guys sometimes. I accept that the ends justify the means. And when the time comes, I’ll accept the consequences of my actions and go back to NuCoal to face charges. What I don’t understand is why it hurts. It hurts right here.” Tom said, tapping his chest. “I can’t reconcile the cost. It has been eating away at me ever since.”

Kain had been alone in the desert a long time. Even as a leader in the Legion Noir or the Regulators he wasn’t skilled at managing the feelings of subordinates. But the Doc was in obviously crisis; he was precariously clinging to his senses of reason and compassion. In that context, his demands to the FE and Paxton made perfect sense: he was bargaining with the devil for his soul. Kain had been there too; innocents had died at his hands for a so-called greater cause. He knew exactly what the doctor was feeling.

The small office was quiet, no words were shared, no eyes met. Both men sat only a few meters apart but completely alone.

“I’m sorry Doctor, but there aren’t any easy answers and there aren’t any moral absolutes. All a man can do is his best.” Kain’s words of consolation rang hollow, even to him. He had spent the last twenty cycles on a mission of vengeance. It had made the most sense when he was in Baja as marshal and later again in the caravan, when they rolled across the Badlands with conscience, the conscience of Father Lelland, Avatania, Ben and even Gade guiding their actions.

“Aren’t there Kain? I can’t help but remember the caravan days. It seemed like we did what was right first and then what was necessary. Simple principles: decency, doing right by people, and stopping injustice. What if we acted using that simple paradigm: does it feel like we’re doing good?” Tom’s face softened, the memory of those simpler and purer times consoling him.

“I was just thinking about the same thing, but we can’t get bogged down in details. Helping old ladies cross the street may help you feel better about yourself, but it doesn't make a material difference. We have to worry about the larger issues that no one else is qualified or motivated enough to tackle. The NEC is still out there, like weeds. Every time I pull one up, another pops up. I need your help to make some headway. We have a responsibility to act.”

“I know, and I see your point. We know what has to be done, and we have the abilities to do it,” Tom said slowly. He paused frequently while searching out his words. His feelings and thoughts filled the silent gaps in his monologue.

“I haven’t forgotten the NEC. But reciprocity isn’t going to get me on my knees pulling up weeds, Kain.

I have neither the patience nor the tolerance for self flagellation that has driven you for all these cycles to carry on like some kind of hermit on a personal crusade. There’s more to it all."

Something dangerous flashed in Kain's eyes at that, but Tom pushed on.

"There was an opportunity here, Kain, which I missed and which I think you may have been blind to.

You can protect the Badlands, the whole of Terra Nova from Earth by routing NEC agents and collaborators, but it isn’t worth saving unless you care about building Terra Nova too.”

Kain took a sip of his cawfee. It was cold, but the bitterness he tasted came from within. Tom was the one having a crisis of faith, not him, so why did the doctor’s reproach ring true? The caravan days afforded them the means to simultaneously build and improve that which they were defending. When the caravan fell apart, Kain had kept the faith alone. He was fighting the Long War. He fought in memory of the dead, but had he forgotten the living?

“Supporting these negotiations helps the workers of Peace River and the Sajhalin of the FE, right? Those are noble causes, so why are you giving up?” he asked the Doctor.

“Because I was so concentrated on the how that I forgot what I was doing this for. The irony is that Paxton under Simosa has made tangible efforts towards change and betterment of the worker caste’s rights. Last winter, he issued Paxton shares to all the workers, he’s been reforming the executive council, and we helped him put Hitachi into place. The current administration is doing good. It was the capitalist in me that demanded a contract. That and I thought I had to show you something, something tangible to get you to go along with this.”

“Mercenaries do it for money, volunteers do it for conviction.”

“So which are you Delacroix?”

“I don’t understand the Sajhalin, I don’t respect the Solicitors, but in spite of the destabilising nature of the revolt, I can admire its tenets. Using your paradigm, I guess it feels like the right thing to do.”

Tom smiled. Strategy was not at fault for Lance Point, a lack of underlying moral guidelines was. Kain could see tension lifting from Tom’s brow. Outwardly, a small sign of inward relief, relief of understanding. Kain felt it too; he breathed deeply, earning a reprieve he had not know he had been waiting a lifetime for. They shared a moment of insight, personal and universal, Each speaking to the other but also to himself. Perfect reciprocity.

“You know who else felt the way we do about the Free Emirates in spite of being there against her will?” Tom asked, feeling the need to capitalise on this moment of clarity to set another pang right.

“Kessler showed considerable strength of character back there. Now she seems to be fitting in rather nicely with PaxSec. I gave her the Kolmar station speech; it was disappointing. She can’t see the difference between us and them.”

“Can you blame her? We’ve used her from the beginning. Face it, Kain she didn’t meet us at our best. You and I have been lost in the desert a long while now, hardly the inspiring figures we once were. I don’t know if you could have put the Regulators together in this state, nor I the Guild. I see potential in her, maybe something I lost and which I see slipping away in her too.”

“You want to recruit a PaxSec agent? I’ll admit she’s skilled and would be a valuable asset. And I agree with you that she has underlying principals that are compatible with our objectives, but I just don’t see her coming around. Not now anyway.”

“It’s always coldest before the dawn, Kain. Have some faith.” Tom said with only a hint of irony. His data glove alerted him to another update. This time he keyed it in the terminal on the desk, Kain bent forward to see the message from Milani Dubeau-Slovenski.

“You were saying something about faith, Doctor?”

“The nerve of that woman....”

“Is almost on par with yours. Still, you managed to get Paxton to bend. Bravo. As to the security issues, clearly we can’t accede. You need to go back to Mme Hiro and make nice if we’re staying on.”

“Yes, I’m typing Dubeau-Slovenski that it would be a breach of professional etiquette and contractual obligations for us to accept her offer when we are bound by our prior agreement to the FE.”

“Add that it would be grossly insulting to the Free Emirates delegation if Paxton passed on the responsibility for their security to a third party. And copy the FE.”

Tom was typing his response, his smile broadening all the while. Kain couldn’t suppress a long forgotten sense of enjoyment as well. He had always had a mission, but he had forgotten he also needed purpose.

“So we’re agreed: we labour on, we help these miserable, misguided simpleton ingrates, because it’s the right thing to do?”

“Like a couple of big damn heroes.”


Sitting in her office, she pulled the ear bud out. On her screen was a copy of Dubeau-Slovenski’s email to Dr Chambers and his reply. Along with the FE delegation, he had BCC’ed her. Maia swallowed hard past a lump in her throat, put the ear bud back in and played the recording for a third time.

“Where’s Vemeer? I had something to say to him.”

“I gave him the day off, he’s been working hard.”

“Who are we targeting today? The Saracens? Observing the Salon Rouge?”

“Nothing, no one, we quit.”


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