Monday, May 4, 2015

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter IX: A Life Worth Killing

36 Winter 1928

Lyta’s nerves were on fire as she reached the hotel room. Her jaw ached from tension, and her nails had dug crescent-shaped gashes into her palms. She had been out of sorts since arriving in Jan Mayen, since she’d first caught sight of GRELs in the streets, walking around like they were people. GRELs outside her door at night, GRELs acting as some farcical security squad that would just as soon take her out as protect her, GRELs in secret meetings as though they weren’t going to turn around and immediately deliver the information right back to the CEF.

But that was nothing compared to the bombshell Ti had dropped an hour ago: that Dr. Neseen was working on letting GRELs breed. He would give them the ability to have purple bastard babies who could continue in their parents’ footsteps forever. She had turned it over and over in her head, and there was only one solution. Only one thing that would fix the problem. She just had to work up the courage to do it.

She knocked on the hotel room door. She realized she was holding her breath and forced herself to exhale. There were sounds from inside the room, furniture moving and footsteps. The lock turned. The door slipped open.

Doc Chambers stood in front of her, and then opened the door more fully. “Hi,” he said. “Glad you could make it.”

It had been too long since she’d seen Chambers, at least a season and a half. When he’d asked her to visit, she’d agreed. She hadn’t known then what she knew now. But if she didn’t show up, Chambers would be suspicious. She gave him a quick hug and flashed a smile she hoped looked genuine. “Hi.”

The Doc waved her into the hotel room and locked the door behind them. Lyta’s eyes darted around the room, but there was no one else. No GREL “security,” no Earther doctors, just empty furniture and a well-stocked mini bar. Lyta rolled her shoulders.

Doc Chambers lifted a bottle of Trinwood Blue from a side table. “I thought we might celebrate,” he said.

Lyta regarded him. “Sure,” she said after a pause. “What are we celebrating?”

The Doc smiled. “The defeat of my enemies and the victory of my allies, of course. Among other things.”

Lyta blinked. With everything going on in Jan Mayen, she had almost forgotten that the world continued turning and events continued to have consequences. That only a week ago, she had infiltrated Matoux’s camp with the Doc’s blessing. That they had killed several dozen smugglers and stolen Matoux's ledger, and that the Doc was no doubt a far richer man as a result.

The Doc continued smoothly as Lyta didn’t answer. “How are you and Ti?”

Lyta allowed herself a brief smile. Despite everything, Ti could still make her smile. “Good,” she said.

The Doc gave a sly look. “You kids,” he murmured. He uncapped the bottle and poured two neat measures, passing one to Lyta. “So if your love life is going well, you no longer have to worry about HIRA, and you know your brother’s safe, then why the long face?”

Lyta took the glass. Her smile slipped. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” She did her best to look confused, but she was fairly certain she wasn’t fooling anyone.

The Doc’s expression grew more serious. “Don't lie to me, Lyta. I am an expert at detecting lies and you are far from worthy of my talents. In other words, it is quite obvious that you are... unsettled."‬

Lyta found she couldn’t meet his gaze. She turned to look out the window instead, at the cars and Gears and purples, all milling about like nothing was wrong. “I hate this place.”

She could hear the Doc taking a seat behind her. “I admit the accommodations in Jan Mayen are far from luxurious, but we all have to rough it from time to time.”

Lyta bit back annoyance. The Doc was toying with her, but it wasn’t like she was giving him many other openings. “That’s not it,” she said. She half-turned to face him, pulling her attention away from the purple-tinged vista below. “How the hell can you be so calm? You, Ti… everyone.”

The Doc raised an eyebrow. “Do you think panicking would be more productive? I’m willing to consider alternatives to being calm and rational.”

Lyta shook her head in frustration. “It’s like you don’t even care that there are ten thousand killing machines right below your window.”

The Doc took a sip of his whiskey. “Lyta, I am all too well aware of the potency of the contingent of GRELs in Jan Mayen. In fact, I'm counting on it. The difference between you and me is that I am not prejudiced by my experience with GRELs, but informed by it.”

Lyta stared at him a minute, then shrugged. “Sure, you can think that way if you want.” The idea that anyone would willingly accept to live around GRELs, walking free and ready to strike at any time… she didn’t understand it and she hoped she never would. If her plan was successful, no one would have to for long.

The Doc settled further into the sofa. “Lyta, I cannot believe that you see GRELs as machines.”

"No? They're designed and programmed. They have a single purpose. The Earthers throw them away when they break. The only difference between them and neural nets is that they have legs and are better at their job. ‬And neural nets can't replicate themselves.”

“Even neural nets can overcome their programming and become more,” the Doc put in.

“Yeah, maybe,” Lyta said. “But if you have one neural net, you’re always gonna have one neural net. Maybe a hyped-up fancy neural net, but still always just one. It breaks, you’ve got none.”

She could see the pieces fall into place behind the Doc’s eyes. “You’re concerned about Dr. Neseen and Isabella Damosa’s project.”

Lyta took a long swallow of the whiskey. It burned as it went down, and she was glad for it. “Wouldn’t you be?”

“If I had your viewpoint, I would be.”

Lyta found that once more she couldn’t meet the Doc’s gaze and turned away, back to the window. The conversation with Ti and Fennec was still fresh in her mind. “We can stop it,” she said in a low voice, almost a whisper. “We can make it so that it never happens.”

“If wiping out the GREL was possible, the North and South would have already done so. My calculations for the future of the Badlands depend on that fact. No, Lyta, there is no way to wipe out a hundred thousand GRELs…” He paused, and Lyta could feel the force of his eyes on her back. “No, wait. That isn’t what you have in mind, is it? No, you are contemplating a far more surgical approach.”

Two Mordrids walked assuredly down the street below the window. An Isaac worked alongside a human mechanic outside a garage, fixing a jacked-up antelope. A Kassandra ate lunch on a bench in front of a three-storey office building. It all sickened her.

Lyta’s voice never rose. “GRELs only live, what, twenty cycles? Thirty? Wait long enough and they all die. But not if Neseen gets his way. Then it’s forever.” Neseen was a scientist, and Jan Mayen wasn’t that big a place. She could find him. She could make sure future generations weren’t terrorized by the specter of the GREL. Logistically, it wouldn’t be as hard as most of their ops.

“Indeed. Quite well reasoned.” The Doc paused to sip his whiskey. “That is of course why I stressed that no one must know about this research. But I must admit I’m impressed.”

Lyta’s brow furrowed. “Yeah? How’s that?”

‪"It takes a special kind of person to make moral decision like the one you are contemplating. The life of one person versus the fate of the world. I make decisions like that. Until now I hadn't thought you could. It takes a special level of..."‬ He trailed off.

Lyta exhaled sharply, annoyed at herself for rising to the Doc’s bait but knowing she was going to anyway. “Of what?"‬


Lyta rolled her eyes. "Ego? You think that's what this is about?"‬

There was no smile in the Doc’s voice, no sense that he was joking. ‪"I'm impressed you think so highly of your moral righteousness."‬

Lyta half-turned towards him, her glass sloshing slightly. "You like patronizing me, don't you? Now who's got the ego?"‬

The Doc’s face gave nothing away. ‪"No, I can't say I particularly enjoy it. So that’s it. Kill Neseen and save the world. After all, it isn't exactly like he is innocent. He did come up with the diabolical idea of helping GRELs procreate. ‬Obviously, you will have to kill Damosa also, but that doesn't matter since she’s just another GREL. And maybe Baakov, just to be sure.” He took a sip of whiskey. “I wonder if you consider me a threat. I could promise that what little knowledge I have of the process is quite insufficient to do any harm," he said with a theatrical plead to his voice.

The Doc continued before Lyta could get a word in, "You would have to take out the surrogate as well. Too bad, she's a lovely young woman, barely older than you. ‪But she's a small price to pay for saving the world. And she did offer her ova to help in the research. That should just about do it. Well, just to be safe there are a few more you could add to the list. But you are morally certain of your position, so what are a few murders, right?"‬

Lyta pursed her lips, her eyes dark. "Are you done yet?"‬

The Doc shrugged. ‪"Hard to tell. When I get on my patronizing horse I tend to lose grip on the reins."‬

Lyta stared at him a moment longer, trying to contain an outburst. She didn’t need to yell at the Doc. She didn’t really need to convince him, though she admitted it would be easier if she could. The thought came to her that maybe that’s why she’d brought it up in the first place, to get the Doc’s blessing. To convince herself that she wasn’t crazy to consider cold-blooded murder when it could save humanity. She closed her eyes. "It doesn't have to be all of those. Just Neseen. He's the lynchpin."‬

"Is he?” The Doc’s voice was tinged with mock-amusement. “I didn't realize you had read his research papers and secret reports on the Helix project. We should discuss cross species biochemistry and genetic cellular recombination some time."‬

Lyta turned back to the window. ‪"I don't need to know the science to know that he knows it."‬

"Unless you are basing your conclusion on something else, say, how much of your soul you are willing to condemn to satisfy your pain. Using that evaluation, is one murder enough? Is that all your hate is worth?"‬

Lyta paused. "Maybe."‬

"One life. Just one. I think I can see that as a reasonable cost. Are you intent on going through with it then?"‬

Put so plainly, it was impossible not to answer. She realized she did not want to kill the doctor. She did not want to kill a scientist in cold blood. But how many people would die on his account? Could she live with herself, knowing that he was alive and working to make more GRELs when she could have stopped him? She drained the rest of her glass. “Yes.”

"So be it." Lyta heard the click of a hammer being cocked. Reflected in the window, she saw the barrel of a mare's leg sawed-off rifle pointed directly at her head.

An electric shock of fear went through her, though outwardly all she did was lick her lips and shift her balance to the balls of her feet. "You're going to kill me?"‬

The Doc’s tone was level. ‪"As you said, one life isn't so much in the greater scheme of things. If killing you ensures that Neseen lives and the GRELs have a chance, then I have to make that call."‬

‪"I didn't take you for a sympathizer."‬

The Doc’s eyes narrowed. ‪"Don't try and push my buttons, Lyta. You are woefully under-qualified to rile me. Besides, if the prospect of murdering someone I care deeply about in cold blood isn't going to shake me, your petty insults won't work."‬

Lyta turned around slowly, her hands visible, no sudden moves. She looked at the man she thought she knew. "No, I meant it. You'd kill me to save GRELs. I didn't see that coming."‬ She would have laughed if the situation wasn’t so dire.

‪"To save GRELs in the short term, to defend the Badlands in the mid-term and to safeguard Terra Nova in the long term. If GRELs are nothing more than machines as you purport and will respond to the order to attack us again when the Keffers come back – and we know that is exactly what they are planning – then our survival depends on humanizing them. ‬Not only the hundred thousand already here protecting the Badlands from the Polar forces, but the next wave the Earth will show up with. We need to make sure they have something to live for beyond killing us.

"Neseen isn't pursuing this venture out of the blue; the GRELs and Damosa came to him. This is what they want. Not to breed armies but to settle roots and raise families. To live life in peace. ‪I know you can't accept this, so you are unable to see the geopolitical shift I envisage and you can't appreciate how shortsighted your hatred is. I hope you only realize how sure I am of it when I pull this trigger. It won't be to save Neseen, it will be to save Terra Nova. ‬I only wish your blinding hatred hadn't brought us to this impasse."

"Yeah, me too." Lyta silently cursed herself. Lukas had been right and she hadn’t listened. She had trusted the Doc and now he was going to kill her. It was, she supposed, one more thing that her brother would be able to lord over her in the afterlife.

She waited, poised to dodge and counter attack if she could. She had to admit to herself the odds weren’t good, but she wasn’t going to go down without a fight.

The Doc released the hammer and put the rifle away. "‪Do what you will, but if you kill Neseen know that our friendship is over. Moreover, if you kill him I will dedicate as much of my energy as I can to completing his work for him. Next time you need to kill someone to stop change, it will be me."‬

Lyta stared at him, trying to figure out what had just happened. The Doc met her gaze and held it. She had never known the Doc to make idle threats. He would do what he said. The work would go on, with or without Neseen to oversee it. And, despite everything, she did not want to kill the Doc.

She put down her glass and ran her tongue over her teeth. “Right,” she said thickly. “Thanks for the drink.” She never let herself back him as she made her way to the door.

The Doc turned away from her. There was ice in his voice. “Any time. My door is always open.”

The lock clicked shut behind her.

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