Where Sheep May Safely Graze: Part One: The Lamb Undone
Posted By: Arthur Wellesley<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 18 January 2008, 5:10 am
June 9th, 2328, 7:30 AM (local time)
Scalding water had always been his preference. The showers in the barracks were only, at best, lukewarm. He never felt clean until his skin burned beneath the flowing water that washed away the grime of a six month tour.
This pleasure—the first of many, he presumed—was gone from him now. The heat awoke the fresh scars upon his body to great torrents of pain. His skin was forever burning now, to the point where clothes had become unendurable. It burned with the memory of agony—worse, of helplessness.
The numbness wrought upon his body now by the freezing water was wholly insufficient. To feel nothing at all was all he desired. The cause which had stirred such passion within him and had brought ruin to his mind as surely as his flesh had been reduced to a forgotten nothingness. Any notion that a gentle reminder of his shattered principles from a likeminded soul had been extinguished upon his reunion with his sister. She talked excitedly of the progress and opportunities of their age, of a union that would span the stars. She spoke the words and expressed the thoughts which had tumbled through his mind for as long as he could remember with fire in her eyes and conviction in her voice.
And he hated her for it. He couldn't say exactly why she provoked his ire, or from what recess it sprung forth to drown out what lingering affection he must have held for her. After excusing himself from her presence, the hurt look on her face only strengthening his scorn, he wondered if it was perhaps the sincerity with which she discussed the subject for which she herself had sacrificed nothing. More likely still, he had thought, it was the assuredness which lived on in her so brightly where it had been taken from him.
He had discovered in the interim, however, that his aversion to his sister's company extended to any whom he was forced to speak to for any length of time. The manner of discourse in his presence aggravated him beyond measure. The tone of their voices inevitably took on one trying to calm a startled horse, their unblinking cow eyes assuring him of their pity. Such treatment overwhelmed him with fury, and in circumstances that precluded a tactful withdrawal he even wished upon them what had happened to him. In the end, however, he maintained what he imagined was a countenance of impassive composure and retreat from his society, at the expense of mere etiquette rather than his freedom. Best to face his demons in solitude than visit them upon unsuspecting sympathizers.
He shut off the water, his skin immediately longing for its freezing embrace. He grabbed a towel from the rack, and the friction from the fabric returned the flame to his body. When he looked down at it he saw that it was stained with red, a consequence of his over-vigorous drying. He threw the offending article aside and glanced awkwardly at his back in the mirror; a hint of blood had risen along one of the black lines which had been drawn upon his shoulders, but it was not enough to be noticeable through his clothes. So satisfied, he put on a pair of boxers and slipped his arms through the sleeves of his shirt.
The buttons did not come easily. Looking down in frustration, he saw his hands shaking perceptibly. A deep breath and a long pause brought him no respite to this spell of nerves, but he continued with the work nonetheless. Starting from the bottom and working up, he counted his progress. One
The top button, however, remained stubborn to his efforts. He tightened the collar about his neck to bring button and hole closer together, though it refused to yield.
"What the fuck," he growled to himself. He felt it rising from the pit of his stomach, though willed it to go no further. He shuffled towards the mirror, trying again to finish his task. Giving it a final push, he saw the button inch its way through the hole, though at the last minute it snapped back through his fingers.
"What the fuck!" he screamed in fury, tearing the shirt apart. He desperately tried to loose his arms from the sleeve which clung resiliently to his damp skin. At last he freed himself from his prison, crashing in his effort into the rear wall, his fall made worse by the slick blood of his back which painted itself on the bright tile.
A predictable knock followed soon thereafter on the unlocked door. "Eyal?" a voice inquired tremulously.
"Leave me be," he said. He was reasonably sure he had said this, at least, though he could not quite hear himself say it.
Regardless, the door opened to reveal a woman who, after a moment of shock, hurried over to his sprawled figure. "My God, Eyal," she said with a shake of her head. "This cannot continue."
"I'll be gone soon enough," he replied. He made no attempt to rise.
"Don't be thick with me. You know that was not what I meant."
She shook her head again at his deliberate obtuseness. "Whatever they are giving you—it is not enough. Are you even seeing anybody anymore?"
"Yes." An untruth.
She pulled the towel rack which he had dislodged in his fall from behind his back and settled down beside him. "I don't know why you would lie to me on this count, but I know you are. You are much changed, Eyal, but no so your ability to lie."
"I saw myself on the road to a padded white room."
"This is killing you. You will let yourself self-destruct for fear of treatment?"
When it was apparent he would say nothing, she continued doggedly in her attempt at consolation. "I tried to warn them of the blunder of the Reach Self Defense Force, but they would not listen. We wrested the control of the colonies from Miami only to consign it to the colonists themselves. Are people so frightened of unity?"
Lapsing into politics again. It was as predictable and unstoppable as the tide. "I would not call it fear," he said. "Anger, perhaps."
"What happened to you was unimaginable, and I'm so sorry for it. I don't know how you pulled through it—I wouldn't have. I've none of your courage. That is why I'm cloistered in the Council rather than really fighting for what I believe in. I am a single delegate from a small country. From within I am considered a nobody and from without I am considered a traitor. When I speak, no one listens. I will never effect a meaningful change.
"But you, Eyal, you have opened the eyes of the world. You have made them see the folly of exporting the borders of our world to the colonies and spreading the mistakes of Earth throughout the galaxy. You have brought about such change that no Councilor could have dreamed of."
He turned to look at his unwanted companion with a hint of a smile on his lips and a sharp look in his eyes. "Is that the big picture, sister? You always were so good at finding it."
Some of the rounded delicacy dropped from her voice when she spoke next. "Why are you going back? You are not fit to dress yourself, let alone perform you duties. What do you think will happen to you there?"
"I've no stomach to discuss my intent or temperament with you, Marina. I'm sorry for intruding upon you these past few days. After today you'll see no more of me."
"Ever?" she ventured after a pause.
He slammed his fist upon the floor. "My God, just leave! Leave me in peace."
She did not immediately leave, but evidently she had no wish to test the extent of his anger. She rose slowly, laying a fleeting hand on his shoulder. At last she left, closing the door behind her.
The tile felt cool on his skin. He did not want to get up, nor to go to the place he knew he must. Yet the prospect for closure drove him and delivered the energy to his legs which finally brought him to his feet. No doubt she thought he had a death wish. Maybe she was right.
But that was not what drew him back to Reach.
10:30AM (local time)
The day was already balmy and hot. Eyal Dayan was grateful for the air-conditioned interior of the limousine, though somewhat less grateful for the occupants. His sister sat beside him, her eyes plastered on the passing scenery, carrying with her an irritating air of unease. He studied the profile of her face illuminated by the fleeting light of the morning sun as they wove in between the skyscrapers of downtown Singapore. She had the fair skin and hair of her mother; even her eyes, which could not quite be called blue, were some species of gray. Many could not believe that they were siblings—with the olive skin and dark hair and eyes of his father, he would admit the similarities were wanting. At least they had always been held together by the commonality of their ideas. Now even that bond was broken.
Far more trying, however, was his verbose bodyguard. He was a fresh-faced lad, an eager young Marine itching for service in the colonies and compensating for the boredom of his station with boundless energy and levity. Eyal was unsure if the man was entirely sure of his story, or what it was particularly which occasioned his services. The young soldier asked him enthusiastically about Reach and space travel without any delicate inquiries into his personal experience. Either the kid was extraordinarily self-absorbed or no one told him who he was protecting. Whatever the case, Eyal actually found it somewhat refreshing, in a tiresome sort of way.
"I hear the capital is beautiful," he was saying cheerfully. "I've seen some pictures in the newscasts. Is it all so nice, or only the rich parts?"
"I don't rightly know. I never got to Massilia." The man seemed impervious to his blunt tone and curt answers. As a curiosity, Eyal studied the man and wondered at his origins. European of some sort. He spoke English impeccably, though Eyal was sure he detected a hint of an accent—German, perhaps. He couldn't tell, though he was not interested enough to ask.
"They're keeping me here for further training," the Marine continued blithely. "Mostly it's just seminars coordinating the elements from the different unions. The brass is paranoid about fights breaking out in the mixed battalions. For Christ's sake, if we were so concerned with such matters, why would we have enlisted with the UNSC?"
After a moment of silence during which he evidently expected an indication of agreement from Eyal, the man continued. "I've heard the real reason for all the delays is that the Western Alliance still pressures favoritism towards its troops for starship postings. It's been fifteen years since the Singapore Accord, and the Alliance is still throwing up roadblocks to unity."
"And why shouldn't they show favoritism?" Eyal asked, seized by a sudden passion. "They should go on building their ships and then ceding them to their enemies?"
The Marine looked shocked by this outburst. "I apologize," he said somewhat stiffly. "I thought we were on the same page here."
Eyal felt his sister shift uncomfortably beside him. The Marine now settled back in his seat with averted eyes as he sunk into an awkward silence. A faint smirk passed Eyal's lips. Had I but thought of it earlier, he thought wryly.
The limousine pulled to a gradual halt as it at last made its way through the heavy morning traffic. Their bodyguard exited first, holding the door open for Eyal and his sister. They were immediately faced with a line of uniformed Marines who dutifully made way for them.
It was a zoo. The steps to the United Nations Council were flanked on both sides by a sea of reporters held in check by grim-looking guards. The media army was comprised of reporters from all corners of the globe who flocked to this neutral little island to catch a glimpse of this poor little soldier. The shouts and calls were deafening, driven to fever pitch by the knowledge they would not be let inside. They wanted to speak to the man who for months had only been a name on a page and an old service photograph.
He strode past them all with a blank expression on his face. His sister glanced at him in concern, worried, perhaps, that the clamorous throng would affect some sort of meltdown in his fragile mind. On the contrary, he felt quite comfortable in this setting; the overwhelming noise and movement distracted his mind from itself, yet it demanded nothing of him. It ran over and around him, obscuring him, like the dark corner of a party where no one knows your name.
Inside the looming walls of the glistening white Council was, in contrast, remarkably quiet. The rhythmic clicking of shoes against the marble floor reverberated in the cavernous entrance hall punctuating the low, indistinct chatter as one hears in a place of worship. Quite unlike a place of worship, however, they were stopped by a security officer who demanded to see some identification.
Marina handed over her ID card and the guard slotted it into the computer. A holographic image of her face floated above a pedestal on the desk above her title: "Marina Dayan, United Nations Councilor from Israel." She sailed through the weapons scanner and Eyal handed over his ID card in kind. His own image floated before him. He couldn't think of when it was taken, though it looked a good deal younger than the face he had seen earlier in the mirror. "Eyal Dayan, United Nations Marine Corps," it read beneath.
They shed their bodyguard at the checkpoint. Marina took the lead. She walked slightly ahead of him and at a brisker pace than usual, assuming the air of one who flaunts their acquaintance with a place unfamiliar to their companion. She offered a few cursory greetings to a number of passersby Eyal presumed must have been important in some regard. It all set his teeth on edge.
After some minutes of walking through the labyrinthine structure, they at last came upon the chambers of the United Nations Security Council. The legacy of the council established nearly four centuries ago, the modern UNASEC bore little resemblance to its founding body. Dominated by the so-called Tetrarchy, a coterie of four representatives elected by Councilors in the Regional Council from each of the four powers, it was the executive head of the ever-growing bureaucracy of the United Nations. Unlike the Regional Council, which held raucous debates on legislation on a regular basis, UNASEC rarely convened publicly. Its secrecy made it the target of much suspicion from "UN skeptics," a large and vocal group which had the shared distinction of transcending borders.
Eyal had been here once before on a tour given by his sister, but it had been empty then, and quiet, like a museum. For him the echoing chamber had only enhanced the enigmatic mystique which cultivated such mistrust in the Council. At least now in session it seemed like the meeting place of human beings rather than some long lost race of haughty kings. The scene was still marred, however, by the vacancy of the upper rows, usually buzzing with press at each rare convention.
Marina led him to a table near the front. Everyone turned to look at him as he walked down the aisle. Eyal recognized a number of delegates from the Regional Council seated at the curved tables on either side of him. In fact, he recognized all of them; being not well versed in the faces of the Council, he took this to mean only important members had been granted audience. And his sister.
They sat down together at the table at the front. Before them was the high bench at which the Tetrarchs were seated. They were chatting amongst themselves, though in a thoroughly subdued manner and with frequent glances towards Eyal. Then, with an apparent consensus reached among them, they all turned to face him directly. At once, without a single word, the chamber became utterly silent.
The first of them spoke in a deep voice which rolled forth from the microphone like the rumbling of falling earth. "Would Eyal Dayan stand, please."
Eyal complied with the instruction of Vicente Odria, the Tetrarch of the Western Alliance. "State your name and rank for the record," he commanded.
"Staff Sergeant Eyal Dayan, United Nations Marine Corps."
"Thank you, Staff Sergeant. You may be seated." There was some quiet shuffling behind and around him as the delegates settled. "We are here, of course, concerning the incident of March 12th of this year," Odria continued. "Before we begin, I would like to remind everyone officially that this is a closed session. Press are not admitted here today, and all spectators are forbidden from discussing the matters of this session to any third party under penalty of law. So, Sergeant," he said, facing Eyal directly, "feel free to be candid."
"Yes, sir," he answered dutifully.
"Good. Now, if you would, please recount the events of March 12th."
Eyal was himself greatly appreciative of Odria's candor; although he was loath to remember that day, he was grateful for the lack of a preamble. "I was on patrol in the Highland Mountains of Reach with my squad," he began the familiar tale. "It was strictly a training exercise."
"Was that typical?" another Tetrarch interrupted. Eyal listened to a translation of the words of Li Enlai of the Eastern Coalition.
"Yes, sir. It's difficult for the UNSC to procure suitable real environment training grounds on Earth. Exercises in the mountains are requisite and stringent for personnel posted to Reach."
"Would the local security forces be privy to the Marine training regimen? Over official channels, I mean."
All for the records, he supposed. Such they must already know. "The Reach Self Defense Force should not have known any particulars of our exercises, no sir."
"Continue, Sergeant Dayan," European Tetrarch Lidia Radwanska prompted him.
"Yes, ma'am. At approximately 0900 local time my squad was ambushed by unidentified forces in the Ivory Forest near the base of the mountains. They caught us unawares. Sniper fire brought down the first of my men. For the purposes of the exercise we weren't wearing appropriate snow camouflage. There was no sufficient cover in the vicinity. They jammed our communications capabilities." He maintained what he hoped was a flat voice. "They dropped us in less than a minute."
"You were the only survivor?" Odria asked.
"Because of your rank?"
"I can think of no other reason, sir."
He cleared his throat and reached for a glass of water. Out of the corner of his eye he caught a glimpse of his sister, who looked a little paler than normal. She had never heard the story from his own lips.
"I was instructed to lay down my arms. They were well camouflaged and pre-positioned. I still could not get a visual on any hostile. There were clearly multiple shooters
"No one's blaming you here, Sergeant," Radwanska assured him.
"I complied," he went on, irritated by the interjection. "I discarded my weapon and sidearm into a nearby snow bank. I was approached by a number of masked men—I counted five but there were probably more. One of them forced me to the ground and cut the CNI transponder from my neck. I was then knocked unconscious. From there I can offer no more references to space or time.
"I awoke sometime later in a cave. The setup was rudimentary; probably they had no preexisting operation there, though they evidently knew the place. I was tied to a metal chair. My captors were arrayed around me. They all wore masks, except one, who turned out to be my interrogator."
"According to your debriefing you identified the unmasked man as Mirza Salehi," Odria said, reading from something before him.
An image appeared on the wall behind him. It was a face of a man of perhaps forty. The man was rather good looking, a neatly trimmed beard and short hair framing a handsome face. Clearly it was a military photograph: his pose was rigid and the collar of a gray uniform was visible at the bottom of the picture. The eyes, however, stood out; two deep pools of black, the pupils nearly indistinguishable from the iris, like a shark. They were the same eyes that he had looked into for nigh an eternity nearly four months ago, evoking such vivid memories he even imagined he saw the same mocking smile on his expressionless lips.
"Is this the man who tortured you, Sergeant Dayan?" Odria asked.
He wasn't sure what would happen to him if he ever saw that face again. He faintly imagined an overwhelming feeling of some sort, perhaps even the final breakdown he and everyone around him had been expecting. Instead he only felt a numbness in his chest as his heart skipped a beat with recognition. [i[Not to worry, sister, he thought, knowing she was studying him with concern.
"Yes, sir," was all he said.
Odria tapped his console and a heavily redacted service record replaced Salehi's face. "Mirza Mohammed Salehi was born in Neyshabur, Iran, on July 6th, 2284. The Cairo Entente has been somewhat hesitant in providing information on Mr. Salehi, but we were able to piece together a brief history. He was born to a poor single mother who died while he was in school. He went to the Nile University in Cairo but left after one year. After this he enlisted with the Cairo Entente Army, sometime in 2304. Most of his record is classified," Odria said with a sigh, "but we know he left the forces around 2321. He was recruited into the Reach Self Defense Force in 2323 and was shipped out to the colony the following year."
"This doesn't make any sense," Musa al-Khariri, the hitherto silent fourth Tetrarch from the Cairo Entente, said with a wave of his hand. "The man just told you his name?"
"In a manner of speaking, sir, yes," Eyal responded with distaste.
"In what manner, specifically?" al-Khariri demanded.
Eyal looked into the hateful eyes of his torturer once more, the image floating back to the fore. Did it really happen?
Did it really happen to him?
A chill wind blew in from somewhere. He was naked and freezing and in tremendous pain. He could neither feel nor move his arms anymore, though he felt his blood flow down to the small of his back. Somewhere there was talking but he couldn't understand it. His vision was blurred by tears of pain and cold.
The feeling of a knife cutting his flesh seared up from his heel. He screamed aloud, hardly any voice left to him anymore. He thrashed violently yet uselessly against his restraints.
Oh God, please make it stop. Just stop it.
His torturer rose and grasped his neck, causing his eyes to bulge and restoring his sight. The man showed him a bloody scalpel. "Your blood," he said with that same faint smile. "Your dog blood."
No use in talking now. Save your strength.
The man walked back over to a table. The familiar metallic clinking of instruments being shifted on the tray reached his ears.
Where could they be? They must be looking for me.
No, no, no! You could be anywhere! They're not coming.
He hung his head over the back of the chair in despair. For the first time he saw something slung over a crate placed against one of the rock walls of the cave. It looked familiar. It was not the white jackets the men had been wearing in the forest. No, it was something else entirely.
A police uniform. A badge hung from the lapel. He squinted to see the name, but it was too far.
"Something catch your eye?" his captor asked, prompting him to snap back straight. The man looked over at the crate, his eye twitching when he found the object of interest. "No need to be a sneaky little cunt, Sergeant," he said.
He strode past the chair and snatched the badge from the uniform, holding it then inches from his eyes. "Got that, Sergeant?" he asked with a snarl. He smashed the brass article against his shattered nose, producing a fresh torrent of blood. Again and again his captor smashed his face, and for a brief moment through the dizzying pain he wondered what his face now looked like.
What did he want?
He didn't want anything.
At last it was over. He could only see with one eye now, and everything seemed to be moving. He heard the man curse in Arabic and saw him cast the bloodied badge aside. There were a few laughs. The man grabbed something else from the tray and strode back over to him. "You pretend fucking soldier boys," the man snarled at him. He forced the cold barrel of a pistol in his mouth, knocking his teeth around. "You know nothing. You are nothing." He brought the pistol to bear and pointed it at his face. "Just another dead Jew."
An explosion, then a quiet ringing. A heavy weight collided with his chest. The chair tipped over and he was on his back, what remained of his fingers likely crushed beneath his own weight.
Silence now. Was he dead? He wished it so, but his whole world was still pain. There was no light anymore, nor sound. Just pain.
Salehi. Mirza Salehi.
"He fired a blank?" Odria asked in some confusion.
"That's correct sir," Eyal confirmed.
Khariri shook his head. "Clearly this man was not seeking anonymity. Just the opposite—he tells you his name and suddenly your transponder reactivates. He wants to be known."
"We have contacted the Reach Self Defense Force once we confirmed Salehi's identity," Enlai said. "They have confirmed him as one of their own but they assure us he's been AWOL since March 11th."
"They've been circling their wagons, however," Radwanska put in. "They've been reluctant to submit to a United Nations inquiry. Reach First is balking at the request. Honestly, we have no legitimate means to compel them to cooperate short of force. We're all operating in somewhat new territory here, I'm afraid."
"The local United Nations Colonial Administration office has been rebuffed by the colonists," Odria said. "We have been decided to send a delegation to the Reach Colonial Council in person with an ultimatum of force unless they comply. We must find this Mirza Salehi, and if it must come to arms, then so be it.
"However, we sincerely hope it will not come to that, in that hope we have opted to send you. Your presence in Massilia will move, if not the RCC, then at least the more moderate colonists. You've already been briefed by Admiral Harrison, I believe."
Eyal nodded. "Yes, sir."
Odria looked at his console. "You have passed all your psych tests, Sergeant, but what you went through was traumatic beyond measure. I'll ask you, for the record: do you feel fit for this assignment?"
He nodded again. "I do, sir."
Odria turned to look at Marina. "And you, Councilor? I understand Sergeant Dayan has stayed at your residence during his time here in Singapore. Do you believe your brother is fit for duty?"
Eyal studied his sister. She did not look well. Her skin was white as snow and her eyes were glazed and did not seem to blink. Evidently his horrific tale, or perhaps more the tone in which it was delivered, had shaken her more than his scars and his rebuffs ever had.
She didn't look at him and so did not see insistent glare. It didn't matter; she complied with his wishes anyway. "My brother is the strongest man I know. He is fit for duty."
"Alright," Odria said, apparently satisfied. "Sergeant Dayan, the delegation leaves for Reach this evening. You are to report to the Changi orbital platform for further instructions. Good luck to you, Sergeant."
The session ended in silence. The Tetrarchy shuffled down from their bench and left through a rear exit, looking very much like judges in an oversized courthouse. Eyal stood up to leave before any of the councilors could approach him. There was shock on their faces and darting glances towards him. The news reports hadn't been half so graphic.
He walked back down the aisle without even a cursory glance to his sister. He wanted to escape with only the frank coolness of the Tetrarchs in his mind.
He did prefer the cold now.