Eldorado, Garris Major System
May 3, 2403
Mason and Lauren followed the ornately dressed monk towards the pillars of the monastery. After his initial announcement, he had deflected Mason’s other questions. Lauren found him irritating. She didn’t hold with holy men, not of any stripe. In her mind, any kind of higher power would have gotten itself involved already if it cared. What that meant was that either God didn’t exist or he didn’t care, in Lauren’s book.
What that left holy men, in her regard, was either dupes or charlatans. The obvious intelligence of the monk suggested that he was the latter. They stepped under the awning of the monastery. The large stone pillars that upheld the ornate roof also divided the structure into separate areas. Up close, Lauren could see that there were a number of glass display cases, which had held what looked like scrolls, stone tablets, and other odd artifacts. Had being the operative word, Lauren thought dryly.
Someone had smashed the glass cases and torn bits of ancient parchment, smashed stone tablets, and broken glass littered the floors. Overturned tables marked a swath of destruction. The damage was complete and utterly thorough.
Mason turned to Lan, “I’m so sorry. This is my fault…”
“This is the fault of the men who did it,” Lan said, his voice calm. “I did not show you this to make you feel guilt, I showed you it so that you can see the determination of those who hunt you.”
“What else did they do?” Mason asked. There was a detached tone to his voice, almost as if he were tapping into some part of him that did not involve emotion.
“When I initially refused to divulge your location, they first threatened the collection of items we had here. I refused, so they destroyed them. They then threatened my people. However, I made it clear that not only would we not cooperate, but that I would kill myself rather than capitulate,” Lan said.
Mason winced. Lauren gave the old man a skeptical look. Passive resistance in that form only went so far, in her mind. Granted, the mercenaries needed him alive, but she didn’t see how the man could prove his determination short of acting on it. Lan caught her look and gave her a small smile, he raised his wrists. She saw, with shock, that he had two bandages, one over each of his wrists.
“The mercenaries moved quickly to have a doctor save my life. After that, they did not further threaten my people, they merely made a recording, threatening the monastery, which they said they posted.”
Mason sighed, “I’m sorry, Lan. I’ve been out of contact for the past few months with no way to find their message. Otherwise, I would have come sooner.”
“Then I am disappointed in you,” Lan said, his voice calm. “I had assumed you realized that showing up would further endanger us, so you stayed away. The mercenaries would have left, eventually. Perhaps, then, they would have lived.” Lan turned, “I see that you have returned to violence.” The way he said it, Lauren could tell it wasn’t a question.
Mason looked away. “Some things happened.”
“As I expected,” Lan said. “As happened here, the last time my people were under threat.” The monk sighed. “This, Mason, is why you had to leave before.”
“Because he defends the people he cares about?” Lauren snapped. She was tired of seeing Mason lectured. Yes, he had done terrible things. Yes, he had a core of violence. If he used that in the right way, she didn’t see the issue.
“No, because his path, as always, is a different one,” Lan said. “I would not take a wolf pup, shear it, force it to eat grain, and run with the flock. To do so is to wrong the wolf and threatens the flock.” Lan cocked his head, “I might, instead, raise the wolf pup to protect the flock, feed it meat, and tame it… but again, this would be to wrong the wolf. This is not the path of the wolf.” Lan’s gaze was calm as he met Lauren’s eyes. “The wolf is a predator. He is not a sheep dog. He is not a sheep. He must hunt, must kill, it is in his nature.”
Mason sighed, “So, what, you want me to return to what I was?”
“The wolf who kills for no reason is not along his path either,” Lan said. “The wolf that hunts alone, without a pack, is less than himself.” The old man shrugged. “Truly, I merely wish for you to find the path that is right for you… and in that, I think you will finally find peace.”
Mason turned away. He took a deep breath as he stared down at the ruins of the artifacts. “I’m sorry about what happened here.”
“Do not be,” Lan said. “They are just objects, of little importance.” He smiled slightly, “Besides, we keep the actual ones hidden away, this is just what we show the tourists.” Despite herself, Lauren gave a snort. Perhaps Lan wasn’t so bad after all.
Mason said, “I need to find out where they came from and what they wanted with… Tommy King.”
“They spoke of their employer several times,” Lan said. He pulled a slip of paper from inside his robes. “One of my younger monks followed them and found that this was the contact code they used at the planetary ansible.”
Mason took the slip of paper. “Whatever you feel about this, I know it is my fault.” Lauren hated the tone of defeat in his voice.
“Fault is inconsequential,” Lan answered. “To use terms of blame and fault is to imply causality, to suggest that man is stripped of choice, that we act only in response to others.” He cocked his head, “All men have free will… you have a choice, now, just as these other men did. What you do with it is up to you.”
Lauren shivered at his words. They were outwardly calm, yet there was a sense of warning and knowledge there… as well as resignation. Lan knew what choice Mason would take, yet he warned him anyway. If he really wanted to stop Mason, he wouldn’t have given him the paper, Lauren thought. She watched Mason as he walked away with slumped shoulders.
Almost as if he had read her mind, Lan spoke, “To deny him the information would be to deny him free will, you know.”
Lauren looked sharply at the old monk. “Free will is overrated. I’d rather have a happy, ignorant life. Since I can’t have that, I just want revenge.”
“How can one be happy without freedom?” Lan asked.
Lauren shook her head, “I don’t have time for your riddles, old man.” She looked him in the eyes, “And if you really gave a damn about Mason, you’d have protected him from the only choice he could make. He spent a decade or more burying Tommy King.”
“A wolf could never be happy living as a sheep,” Lan said, his voice sad. “Nor, despite what it tells itself, would it find happiness in denial and isolation.”
All of the parables and similes and his odd behavior just became too much. Lauren wasn’t certain if Lan wanted Mason to return to being the pirate Tommy King or if he didn’t. For that matter, half of what he said sounded almost as if he said Tommy King wasn’t a bad man. She stared at the old monk for a long moment as she searched for the right words. Eventually, she settled on the truth.
She glared at him suspiciously. “You are weird,” Lauren finally said.
The Shattered Empire will be available on Amazon on the 25th of October, 2014. Read below for the blurb.
Baron Lucius Giovanni has managed to buy the human race a brief reprieve from the two alien races which seek humanity’s extinction. In the process he has become the leader of a new nation and the commander of a powerful fleet. However, victory comes with consequences. Without an imminent threat, old feuds have sparked back to life and tenuous alliances falter. There are also old enemies who cannot forget that Lucius has what they wanted. He must find a way to hold off scheming rivals, sociopathic psychics, and even former friends. If he can’t do all that and take the fight to humanity’s true enemies, billions may die under alien servitude.