Thursday, April 21, 2016

Koreshi Chronicles - Chapter X: The Big Picture

It was a roadside homestead frequented by caravans but also a destination for locals and not-so-locals who came from hundreds of klicks around for the ‘best barnabe back ribs in the Badlands’.

The summer sun was setting. Nicosa Renault sat at the back of the veranda and watched it wane. The crowd was starting to pick up, no doubt for the band setting up on the stage at the far end of the parking area. Smoke billowed up from the barbecue pit and a friendly waiter topped off her lemonade as he cleared her dish of discarded bones.

A tall Badlander strode up in a long duster, his features shadowed by the setting sun at his back.

“Mission accomplished?” Nicosa asked as she used a cloth to wipe her hands.

“Scratch one more bad guy,” came Kain’s reply.
“I’ve been thinking...”

“Really?” Nicosa interjected, feigning incredulity.

Kain had worked for her for a long time, but there was plenty about her he didn't know or understand. Her sense of humour, for example -- did she even have one?

“Yes,” he continued undeterred. “If I had a copy of the Abacus list, I’m sure I could open some news leads on a number of sympathisers and collaborators.”

“Yes, you might even be able to track down Arens.” Nicosa waited a beat before continuing. “Of course I’ve considered it, but at this point I’m more concerned that taking out what few people are left on the Abacus list will strengthen the Bear’s isolation. I think we will let Corovan continue managing that piece of intel.”

“Then you trust his judgement?” Kain suggested.

She smiled, but the expression was bitter. “I didn’t say that.”

The waiter came back around to their empty corner and Kain held up his three middle fingers like a claw then clenched his fist, signalling, in these parts, he wanted three ribs with a white sand rub, finished with a sweet glaze accompanied by a beer.

“Then what?” Kain continued when they were once again alone. “He clearly shares your distrust of the Doc or he wouldn’t compartmentalize as much intel from the Nexus. Why not work with him instead of piecing together tidbits through your agent?”

“He’s an idealist,” Nicosa answered simply, ignoring the jab at Lukas’ efficacy because she respected Kain’s opinion and she was struggling with a decision for which she could use a sounding board.

“Aren’t we all?” Kain retorted, mostly sincerely.

“He’s the wrong kind,” she countered, trying to verbalize her reasoning. “He lets his heart guide his decisions; that makes him unpredictable and dangerous. For example, he is a strong advocate of GRELs, a view he shares with Chambers.”

“I know what the Doc thinks, that the GRELs are a stabilizing force, they make the polar forces think twice before crossing into the Badlands, and he’s not entirely wrong.”

“Nor is he entirely right. When the North or the South judge they have sufficient strength to start warring amongst each other again…”

“Then the GRELs of Port Arthur will stop being an impediment and turn into a pretext for encroachment and escalation. I’m familiar with that scenario.”

“It isn’t just a pretext, Kain. Don’t you agree that they’re a threat?”

“GRELs are weapons of war, the weapons of our enemies. They’re incapable of moral decisions and therefore can’t be fully trusted or integrated. When the CEF return, I think most of the GREL will revert to type and then we’ll have a serious foothold situation.”

“I agree. There will be a tipping point, when the threat of the GRELs in the long run will outweigh their value in the short run.”

The ribs arrived, piled high and dripping simple goodness. The moment the beer was set down, it started forming a puddle as condensation beaded up on its surface and rolled down. Kain smacked his lips.

As soon as the waiter was out of earshot, Nicosa continued her reasoning. “Especially because I know that the CEF are developing technologies which will upgrade GRELs and allow them to capture and redeploy the Terra Nova contingent in a new conflict.”

Kain’s face remained impassive as he absorbed that information, but internally it provoked an immediate and unfortunate reaction. Kain pushed his food away as Renault continued unfazed.

“The CEF are returning and the Port Arthur GRELs present a tangible if not quite immediate threat. I’ve therefore ensured that a certain amount of Dr. Bearden’s research remains in circulation, which should, I'm assured, help develop a targeted biological agent.”

“I see,” Kain said laconically as he took a sip of his beer.

“Yes, I’m sure you do. But I believe the idealist would not. He’s bent on destroying all traces of Bearden’s work, even his masterpiece.”

“The Jezebel? Isn’t that just another GREL threat?”

“If we are to believe the preliminary analysis of the data Lukas retrieved from Creighton Aux, the Jezebels are in many ways even more programmable than standard GRELs. This would permit us to capture and turn them against the NEC. I firmly believe that a war with Earth can only be won by taking the fight to them, and the Jezebel might be the best weapon we’ve ever seen.”

“I see. But you don’t think that Corovan can be persuaded? I don't know him really well, but the Doc mentored him and I think he would see things the same way.”

“My issue with Chambers is his ego. It makes him unreliable, but he is a fundamentally prosaic man. That’s why I allow him to continue his endeavours...”

“That and Targeter,” Kain interjected between gulps.

“Yes,” Renault acknowledged before continuing, “but Corovan makes emotional decisions. On the one hand he has faith in the GRELs and fights to protect them, and on the other he’s out to destroy Bearden’s work completely, down the last Jezebel. Because there are a great number of GRELs, he elevates them to the level of a race and endows them with rights while he can rationalize eliminating a handful of Jezebels. That mindset is completely wrongheaded.”

Kain nodded. “The threat is the large population we can’t control, but the small number of Jezebels can become a tool. It’s simple arithmetic.”

“Precisely. Corovan is more of a threat than Chambers because he lets his idealism cloud the practical facts.”

“Which make him incapable of seeing the big picture,” Kain completed her thought.

“Exactly,” Nicosa let out a sigh, then added, “which is why he can’t be reasoned with.”

“Still, he and his Kin are very capable. He’s a potent asset,” Kain countered, setting his glass down.

“He would be if he could be controlled, but I fear that just like our GRELs, his short-term usefulness with turn out to be a long-term liability.”

“He’s a good man,” Kain retorted, a bit more defensively than he had intended.

“He isn’t the first good person to fall in this war,” Nicosa Renault concluded sanguinely.

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