Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Good Fight

The spire of the executive tower lanced skywards from the bulk of Peace River, shining in the midday sun like a beacon calling the hopper home. The pilot assured Dr. Chambers that they would be there in 10 minutes.

He had spent most of the flight planning his next actions. There was just one more thing to do before debarkation.

Maia was in a secluded seat, Chambers clambered back and strapped himself in next to her. She was brooding and the Doc’s arrival did not improve her mood.

“Kessler, we’ll be landing pretty soon.” He said without preamble. “In light of Rosso’s betrayal and the attack on the BCG offices, we’re changing tack and going incommunicado.” He paused briefly, that moment’s hesitation before proposing, or pulling the trigger. “You have to make a choice. Either you keep us at arm’s length or you embrace us completely and go to ground with us.”

Maia kept her face carefully neutral. She was already seriously considering Delacroix’s suggestion to take her family and leave. The idea of going to ground with them was the furthest thing from her mind. Especially since, in her experience, when Chambers spoke of choice, he usually was trying to manipulate someone. Maia was in no mood to play his games. But at least, this once, she could frame her refusal as a work conflict, without bringing up her personal feelings. “I can’t make that kind of decision. I’m under orders, Doctor Chambers. I go where Colonel Lenaris sends me.”

“I’ve already spoken to Lenaris.” He said impatiently, his head shaking dismissively. “I asked him to authorise your deployment with us as I see fit. He agreed. Now I’m extending that choice to you.”

Maia cursed him silently. Of course he had spoken to Lenaris. He seemed to be on a first-name basis with every executive in Peace River, and could probably drop in on Simosa himself for a chat if he felt like it. How was she supposed to answer? She wished she could politely tell him to go screw himself. She had no desire to replay her experiences in Okavango, following along against her will, especially not now, in her own city while Celina and Tanya were in danger.

Chambers watched as uncharacteristic emotions played out over her face. “You don’t like me, do you, Kessler?” He asked, correctly guessing her feelings towards him, though irrelevant to her present discomfort. “Well, I guess I don’t need you to like me. But I do need you to trust me if you’re coming with us.”

Trust. He wanted her to trust him. Unbidden, Maia’s mind flicked to the events of the last few weeks, running through them in a staccato of gunfire. She had been personally involved in attempted kidnapping, gun fights, bombings, brutal interrogations and murder. Not to mention such trivial matters as chases, illegal break-ins, arson, and more lies than she could keep track of. She’d grappled with breakdown and her family slowly falling apart and now being threatened by the BRF. And the reason she had been pulled into this horrible maelstrom was her association with Tom Chambers.

It was more than she could bear. The cracks in her implacable countenance finally split wide, and through the gashes spilled her overflowing wrath.

“No, Chambers, I don’t like you, and I don’t trust you. You’re reckless and cold-hearted. You leave a trail of destruction behind you and you’re completely indifferent to the collateral damage you’re causing; you exhibit a complete lack of morals. You, Doctor Chambers, are the most selfish, self absorbed, manipulative, untrustworthy person I have ever met.”

Maia hissed the accusations, and no one in the hopper could have heard her over the hum. No one but Chambers, whose impassive gaze looked squarely into her reddened eyes.

“You’re right.” He said simply. “And I’m probably a whole lot worse than that. Thank you for your honesty. Though if I may be equally frank with you, I was hoping you would look past your prejudices, justified as they may be, and see what I am trying to accomplish, not my personal failings.”

Maia furtively swiped at threatening pools before her mascara ran. Chambers settled back into his seat and closed his eyes.

“You remind me a lot of myself at your age.” He said it without moving, eyes still closed, his tone conversational. “Lots of talent, skill and ambition, but no direction. Then I met Kain Delacroix and he opened my eyes to some terrible truths. A reality which most are blind to by choice or design. I chose to get involved for the fates of the thousands if not millions that I could help, but the objective was so important, so intimidating that I ignored everything I deemed insignificant, including decency.”

She was glad his eyes were still closed so that he couldn’t see the obvious incredulity on her face. “I can’t help you. You look after your thousands; I’ve got to look after two.”

He opened his eyes and turned back towards her, his face flashed a query, then fast reasoning, and finally dismayed understanding. “They’ve come after us, now you think they’re coming after you. What do you know?”

Maia sighed, defeated. Now she was the one who leaned back and closed her eyes. “In Jan Augusta’s last email, he sent me a warning. I wasn’t sure at first. I thought I might have been imagining things. But Smith confirmed it. He even called it ‘clumsy.’ So you go to ground if you have to, but I’ve got to take care of my family.”

The hopper banked gently, the tiers of Peace River staked up out the port window as the vehicle slowed from flight mode to partial lift. Chambers drew a deep breath.

“I had a family once. A wife and her child.”

Maia opened her eyes, clearly remembering back in Okavango when the Doc had told her he had no family, no one to go home to. “What happened?”

“I lost them.”

Words of consolation were halfway to Maia’s lips when Chambers shook his head. “No, no. They’re fine. They just left me.”

Maia felt both self-righteous and bitter. The man couldn’t even keep his family together and she couldn’t help the wave of vindication that passed over her. “Why, were you too concerned with the lives of your millions?”

“No, it only took a few hundred. I put the mission before basic morality. I became callous; it was the only way I knew how to deal with the magnitude of the events and their costs. I lost my way and after Lance Point; I eventually lost them.”

“I won’t let that happen. Not to my family, not to me.” The words were thick in her throat; clearly she hadn’t been expecting talk of Lance Point.

“It’s already happening, Kessler. I’m not even there, and I can see it. If it weren’t for a clear and present threat to your family, you would be coming with us because you think that’s what PaxSec wants. You’re a careerist and your own advancement blinds you to the big picture. If you keep going down this path, you will become exactly like me. People like us need to do, to be. We are our work and we need to do good things if we want to be good people. Sorry, Kessler, you’re more like me than you are willing to admit.”

Maia’s stomach lurched, but it wasn’t because of the hopper which was sliding smoothly into a holding pattern waiting for final instructions to land. Her fists clenched against the straps of her seat restraint, her jaw was tight. She forced herself to listen to him, despite the barbs.

If Chambers noticed her tension, he didn’t mention it. “Do me a favour, Kessler, do yourself one,” he said with a start. “I lost my way, I’ve become this man you despise, don’t let this happen to you. Quit PaxSec, quit before they corrupt you, before the conviction and honesty I admire in you, which I wanted to bring to our team, slips away.”

She couldn’t shake the feeling that his sentiment was patronising, but the resignation in his expression seemed painfully genuine. The worst part was, he was probably right. She’d had similar thoughts about PaxSec in that silent part of her mind that she kept very, very tightly controlled. “I won’t be staying with PaxSec,” she said quietly, casting a furtive glance at her PDA to make sure it wasn’t listening. “As soon as these talks are over, I’m done. I’m transferring out to my old job.”

“Good. Then at least you can simply waste you talent and potential on vain pursuits like corporate comfort and career achievements. Better to see you wasted than corrupted.”

“If I were to be corrupted, it would be by you and your company,” she shot back.

“You’re wrong. I could offer you a singular chance, Kessler: the opportunity to live up to your potential. Your life is a lie -- worse, it’s hypocrisy at its most vulgar. You’re a moralising weapons merchant, caught between your beliefs and your actions.” He scoffed before continuing more reflectively. “Yet another similarity between us. The pragmatist in me is willing to do evil for good ends. Trust me, it will eat away at you like a cancer.”

“You really think you’re doing good? With all that you’ve done recently? Manipulating the Saracens, torturing Kassonga, gunfights twice a day? And the whole affair with Thoras? Can you really look me in the eye and tell you’re doing good?”

Chambers closed his eyes again, suddenly looking much older and more tired. “Everything we do, everything I’ve done, every person I’ve hurt, abused, manipulated, and killed in the last 18 cycles has been for a greater purpose. Every gram of influence and dollar or dinar has ultimately been for the freedom of Badlanders and the safety of Terra Nova. You can question my methods, but what I do it for rises above reproach or doubt. It has to, because it cost too damned much.”

Maia pursed her lips as thoughts chased each other through her mind. She had to admit that he had a point. They had improved the conditions for the Sajhalin in ousting Thoras, and she had read his demands to Paxton in exchange for his continued help in these negotiations. Still, she had to challenge the facts, not his supposed intentions.

“I think your goals are self-serving, Doctor Chambers. You’ve come out of all these situations better off politically than you went in: Brahvo owes you favours, and probably Hiro does too. Hell, the Saracens owe you even while you’re manipulating them. The fact that people are helped along the way is a happy by-product.”

The hopper dipped to the right and began spiralling down and losing altitude as it darted for a landing platform at the PaxSec tower.

Chambers smiled, an unexpected reaction to her vitriolic accusations. “Personal advancement and global improvement don’t need to be mutually exclusive goals. But in this case, you’ve got it backwards: improvement is the primary goal and personal advancement is the by-product. If you joined us you could see that for yourself. It was my hope you could help us do less harm while we tried to pursue a greater good.”

Maia ran her tongue along her teeth. “Nothing I’ve said has ever made a difference with you. Can you really tell me that Delacroix would stop torturing people for information just because I balked? He would demand another way to get his answers, and I don’t have any. I’m not an intelligence operative or whatever it is you call yourselves. I don’t know how to do what you do and I don’t want to.”

“Until now, you’ve either been along against your will or you’ve been working for an organization we don’t trust. You want us to listen to you, you’ve got to be on our side. As one of us -- not just someone along for the ride -- but one of us, raising an objection, I would listen to you and so would Kain. I don’t need you to tell us how to do our jobs, Kessler, I need you to challenge us to find a better way.”

He leaned over, his expression disappointed and resigned. “Or you can stay here, live out your life as an arms dealer, full of righteous indignation but unwilling to do anything to correct the injustices you picture us committing. Whatever you may think of me, I’m not interested in forcing you to do anything. This has to be your choice or it doesn’t mean a damned thing. I’m going to get off this hopper and keep fighting the good fight. The question is, are you coming?”

The retrojets swivelled and growled as they spat hot exhaust over the tarmac. The hopper shook and buckled as the vibrations strained bolts and metal, the whole world rocked violently for a terrible moment and then came to perfect stillness as the vessel made a soft landing. Chambers slapped at his restraining straps. The hopper made small sounds as metal stretched and parts cooled. All her worries came rushing back, about Janus’ warning, about her family. She’d been so caught up in arguing with Chambers that she’d forgotten her true priorities. Chambers was already a few steps away when she called his name and he turned around. “Two hours.”

His brow furrowed. “What was that?”

“If you really want this, if you really want me to come with you, I need two hours. Alone. Tell me where you’re going to be in two hours, and I’ll meet you.”

Chambers shook his head. “No, we’re disappearing. There is no discussion and certainly no dallying. If you’re with us, this is the way it has to be, Kessler”

Maia stared at him. “Is this your idea of listening to me? You want my trust, you’re going to have to trust me first. I need two hours to make sure my family’s safe, or there’s no deal.”

Anger flashed in his eyes and tension showed in his neck and jaw; signs of an internal struggle. It lasted an interminable five seconds. He took three long strides back top her and leaned in close. “Senova, Brian Senova. He’s the caravaner we’ve been using for surveillance. He’s trustworthy and discreet. He can get your family out if you want or you can simply meet us at his longrunner in 122 minutes.”

He abruptly turned and stepped up to rejoined Lady Hiro, taking her by the hand to help her off the hopper. Kain arrived as a mirror image with Rosso in tow. He threw her a querying glance and debarked.

Soon the hopper was empty and the cabin lights went out and the engines switched to a powered-down standby mode. The hopper stood ready for the next mission, it only awaited directions.


Certain Betrayal said...

Thanks to Julie for her patient collaboration on this one. It think it was worth the work.

Julie said...

It was decidedly a team effort. And, indeed, I like the way it turned out in the end. (Nobody ask to see the early drafts. Trust me on this one. *grin*)

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