January 11, 2005

Calling all reactive agents


FASTER AND FASTER downhill, tearing his clothing on rocks and thorny vines, and by dusk he was back at the settlement. He knew at once that he Was too late, that something was horribly wrong. No one would meet his eye. Then he saw Bradley Martin, standing over a dying lemur.

Mission could see that the lemur had been shot through the body. He felt a concentration of rage, like a hot red wave, but there was no reciprocal anger in Martin.
‘Why?’ Mission choked out.
‘Stole my mango,’ Martin muttered insolently.
Mission’s hand flew to the butt of his pistol.
Martin laughed. ‘You would violate your own Article, Captain?’

‘No. But I will remind you of Article Twenty-Three: If two parties have a disagreement that cannot be settled, then the rule of the duel is applicable.’
‘Aye, but I have the right to refuse your challenge, and I do.’
Martin was an indifferent swordsman and a poor pistol shot.
‘Then you must leave Libertatia, this very night, before the sun shall set. You have no more than an hour.’
Without a word, Martin turned away and walked off in the direction of his dwelling. Mission covered the dead lemur with a tarpaulin, intending to take the body into the jungle and bury it the following morning.

IN HIS QUARTERS Mission was suddenly overcome by a paralyzing fatigue. He knew that he should follow Martin and settle the matter, but — as Martin had said—his own Articles . . . He lay down and fell immediately into a deep sleep. He dreamed that there were dead lemurs scattered through the settlement, woke up at dawn with tears streaming down his face. 1

MISSION DRESSED AND went out to get the dead lemur, but the lemur and the tarpaulin were both gone. With blinding clarity he understood whyMarttin had shot the lemur, and what he intended to do: he would go to the natives and say that the settlers were killing the lemurs and that, when he objected, they turned on him and he had barely escaped with life. Lemurs were sacred to the natives in the area, and there was the danger of bloody reprisal.

Mission blamed himself bitterly for allowing Martin to escape. No use to go looking for him now. The damage was already done, and the natives would never believe Mission’s denials.’


BIG BEN STRIKES the hour. In a muted, ghostly room, the custodians of the future convene. Keeper of the Board Books: Mektoub, it is written. And they don’t want it changed.

‘If three hundred men—then three thousand, thirty thousand. It could spread everywhere. It must be stopped now.’
‘Our man Martin is on target. Quite reliable.’
A woman leans slightly forward. An arrest ing face of timeless beauty and evil, an evil that stops the breath like a deadly gas. The chairman covers his face with a handkerchief.
She speaks in a cold, brittle voice, each word a chip of obsidian: ‘There is a more significant danger. I refer to Captain Mission’s unwholesome concern with lemurs.’
The word slithers out of her mouth writhing with hatred.

THERE ARE NO further repercussions from the incident with Martin. But Mission does not slacken his precautions. He can feel Martin out there waiting his time with the cold reptilian patience of the perfect agent.
He had underestimated Martin from the beginning by not seeing him. Martin had the capacity to create a lack of interest in himself. 2 Even his position was ambiguous, something between a petty officer and a member of the crew. But since there were no petty officers, he occupied an empty space. And he made no attempt to fill it. When told to do something he did it quickly and efficiently. Yet he made no attempt to make himself useful.

Since Mission found contact with Martin vaguely disagreeable - he asked him to do less and less. Mission was displeased that Martin chose to join the settlers, but he did his share of the work and bothered no one. When he was not working he would simply sit, his face as empty as a plate. He was a large, sloppy man with a round pasty face and yellow hair. His eyes were dull and cold like lead.
Mission saw Martin for the first time as they confronted each other over the dying lemur. And what he saw inspired in him a deadly, implacable hatred.
He sees Martin as the paid servant of everything he detests. No quarter - no compromise is possible. This is war to extermination.

1. Consider the inexorable logic of the Big Lie. If a man has a consuming love for cats and dedicates himself to the protection of cats, you have only to accuse him of killing and mistreating cats. lie will have the unmistakable ring of truth, whereas his outraged denials will reek of falsehood and evasion. [...]

2. If you wish to conceal anything - you have only to create a lack of interest in the place where it is hidden.

Burroughs, Ghost of Chance

Posted by mark at January 11, 2005 09:42 PM | TrackBack