Episode 311: Suckered

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Air Date: 16 mar 2010
Present: Maer, Andy, Bobby, and Tony

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Tuesday, 19 Nov 2520
Santa Ria Mission, Shepherd’s Mission
Muir, Blue Sun (Qing Long) system.
1300hrs, local time

We’ve arrived at the moon to find Faria there with Escobar, along with General Jon Hu, ret., who had bought the moon at War’s end. General Hu’s ship, a model 03 Firefly, is parked alongside and we do the same. It’s not long before Nika strikes up a conversation with the Firefly’s crew and gets an invite to check out the other ship’s bridge. The ship is flying…not quite right, its pilot explains. Would Nika like to take her out for a spin, see if she can suss what’s wrong with it?

Would she? Hells, yeah! So off Nika goes, finding an unexpected bit of pleasure in what would ordinarily have been a dull milk run.

Meanwhile, Faria meets us on the dirt near our ship and he tells us that there had been some sort of attack on the mission, lots of dead—obviously—but there was one survivor. That’s heartening, considering the surroundings. The buildings have sustained some damage. Fire. Gunfire. General marks of violence and mayhem. We see Hu’s men, Agua Negra mercenaries in tees and off-duty pants, are busily digging graves for the dead they found when they arrived. Escobar docilely digs alongside them. He doesn’t look bad for a walking dead man and Rina points him out to Arden and the rest.

Joshua: All right….well, ah, this is great and all and—
Arden: Looks like he’s been put to useful labor.
Joshua: No, I don’t care about him. Like, I just kinda wanna—Is Faria ready to go? (To Faria) Are you ready to go? Because…
Arden: We have some lumber to deliver. We’re late already.
Joshua: (undertone) Oh, yeah, we’re really late. (relenting) How is he? Seems like Escobar is redeeming himself.
Faria: As Providence would have it, I ran into General Hu which works out perfectly. Which will be adequate assurances that Escobar will redeem himself rather than return to…
Arden: A life of leisure and crime?
Faria: That is my hope. At least, there’ll be consequences for his.

Faria looks us up and down.

Faria: You all look….the worse for wear.

We tell him we crashed on Muir. How?

Joshua: Well, there was a rocket launcher…and a sensor array that fell off…and we pull out of pulse in atmosphere….

Which sets Rina off on the litany of every damn thing that’s wrong with the Gift, thanks to Potemkin. Faria listens to it all, unfazed.

Faria: Hmm. It doesn’t look good. (…Onward…) I was hoping to talk to you and General Hu about…well….there are some issues we need to talk about before we go. If you’re amenable.
Joshua: What’s that, Shepherd?
Arden: Issues with us? Or issues with Hu?
Faria: With the survivor.
Joshua: Is there a, is one of these rooms somewhere in the Mission available to us. Perhaps we should go there.

We head inside. The General is there waiting for us.

Arden: Should I get my medical gear?
Rina: I’m grabbing my tools.
Hu: You may try…He refused to be examined by my men.

Arden grabs his medical gear and Rina grabs her tools from the Gift.

Rina: (to Arden) I have a blowtorch you can use.

Arden passes up on her offer and together they go back to the Mission.

Hu: We believe him to be the Shepherd Iskariot, who was the last Shepherd hear according to the notes although he’s not on any of the records. He wasn’t somebody that I sent here, although many people change their names when they become one.
Joshua: Okay, so he’s a Shepherd. Is he a Shepherd like a regular Shepherd? Or is he a Shepherd like—
Arden: He was taking care of Prion patients.
Hu: Yet it would appear he may have suffered from the disease himself.
Arden: Yes, he was suffering the disease himself.
Rina: So why don’t we go and lay eyes on this guy and verify it’s who we think it is?
Joshua: Okay.

Yes. Yes he is. As we see as we’re led up to the second floor cells and offices. From one of them we can look down on Iskariot in the chapel below. Iskariot is sitting in a second row pew. He’s got that distracted, sealed-off demeanor of people who aren’t quite right in the head. Rather like those wandering homeless who are mentally ill, he’s agitated and talking to himself in a jerky twitchy way. He is clearly suffering the later stages of the disease and he appears to be praying.

General Hu sees us recognize him as we take the scene in.

Hu: You know him?
Arden: We spent some time with him on this moon before.
Joshua: Not me. Like I’m, I’m feeling kinda lost here. Like..like…
Rina: (to Joshua, quietly) I’ll fill you in later.
Joshua: (quietly back) Okay.

Arden’s filling in Hu now.

Arden: We spent some time on this moon before. He was taking care of a number of Prion patients. Seeking to rehabilitate them or at least provide some place where they could go on to their final destination peacefully.

Rina starts to cough, literally, on her words. Peacefully?! Her twitchy Russian ass, it was. But nothing comes out of her but strangled coughing. She waves the others off, gesturing she’s fine, and Arden continues.

Arden: His idea was the more advanced cases that were going to die anyway might as well go out fighting Reavers.
Joshua: (not buying it, nope) Fighting Reavers.

General Hu looks appalled.

Hu: He was training Prion patients to fight Reavers?
Rick: Not fighting Reavers.
Rina: No. He was baiting tiger traps with them.

Joshua gets it right away.

Joshua: Oh, that’s better. Are there any normal Shepherds, Faria? Like, are there any? I mean, I’ve….Everything I’ve ever seen, the Shepherds I’ve met, there’re only two of them, but so far, they’re like, like…There’s nothing like people growing up thinking, ‘Gosh, I want to be a Shepherd’. It’s like, like somebody who has a hideous horrible past and then, like, becomes a Shepherd. Is that always the way it happens?

Joshua’s Jackson-esque stutter is back. Rina tries to calm him down and Arden goes on.

Arden: I don’t know if Iskariot had a hideous horrible past, but all I know was he was pretty callous about people.
Rick: He wasn’t training Prion patients to fight Reavers. What had been discovered was, when Reavers are infected with the Prion disease they act differently and they die just like everyone else. Except it’s an accelerated dehabilitation, if I remember correctly. He was observing a Reaver he had caught.
Hu: He caught a Reaver?
Rick: Yes.
Hu: He didn’t say any of that, although what he’d said has been hard to make out.

Rick tells Hu of the room with the closed circuit camera, where Isksariot kept the infected Reaver under observation. Furthermore, he tells Hu of how Iskariot would last-stage Prion patients into space on ships to act as edible booby traps for the Reavers.

Rina: Like I said. Tiger traps. You take a bleeding goat, you stake it and you wait for the tigers to come to munch it.
Hu: So he would lure Reavers?
Rina: Yes.
Hu: And attack Reavers?
Rina: No.
Arden: He would give the Reavers a meal in the hopes that it would kill them.
Hu: Oh. Like in Medieval combat, with putting plague victims in the wells.
Rick: Yeah.
Arden: Or catapulting them into the city.
Rina: Mm-hm.
Hu: Yes. Well. That’s gruesome.
Rina: To say the least. (a beat) Although I doubt that Arden thinks my method was any better.

None of which helps us decide what to do with Iskariot now. He’s got the disease. He’s going to die. He’s suffering right this minute. Hu mentions that they had debated taking Iksariot to Highgate, where there is a rehabilitation center. Joshua mentions dryly that we’re familiar with that one, yes. Hu exchanges a look with Faria, and says he’s certain that there are some decent doctors still working there. On Iskariot himself, the General offers up this interesting comment.

Hu: He seemed to gain some lucidity when his future was being talked about, and he seemed to want to stay here and die. And he offered various ways we could kill him quickly if he started showing signs of aggression, which I thought was….(words fail)
Arden: Sounds like him.
Hu: That was kind enough [of him] I suppose….
Rick: That was probably for everyone’s protection. Did you guys find his sword?

Yes, they did. The General hands it to Rick to inspect.

Rick: It’s rare these days for someone to carry a sword as a weapon.
Arden: (pointedly) As opposed to knives.
Joshua: (undertone) Maybe all Shepherds do that….

There are no inscriptions on the sword, despite some expectation of it. Bible quotes or poetry, something suitable for a warrior and a priest.

Joshua: So…General, Faria…Shepherd Faria….where do we fall into this? I mean it’s a tragedy horrifically gruesome Shepherd is feeding people to the Reavers and is tragically going to die soon, but where does that—
Hu: We didn’t know about this. We thought perhaps that you might be able to take him, since I’m going to be here a while.
Rina: Take him? Where?
Hu: Highgate.
Rina: (warningly) Why?
Joshua: It’s a rehabilitation center.
Rina: Oh, is that what they call it now?
Joshua: It is. Just one bad doctor doesn’t make the whole rehabilitation center bad any more than…uh…
Arden: One bad engineer makes the ship bad.
Rina: Okay, Arden, how many hospitals have we been to in the past two years where we weren’t shot at and threatened?
Arden: Most hospitals we’ve been at we haven’t been shot at.

Hu drags us back on topic.

Hu: Since you seem to have some sort of acquaintance with this person—
Rick: Yeah. Can we talk to him?
Hu: You can. He gets a bit agitated. I believe he’s unarmed right now.
Joshua: Oh, yeah. ‘Unarmed’ is such a loose term.
Rina: (clenching her fists) Yeah.
Joshua: Okay. Are we talking to him?
Rick: Sure. Let’s talk to him.
Arden: I definitely want to.
Joshua: (sarcastically) Sure! Why not?
Rina: (disgusted) Oh, grahhhghhh.
Joshua: (to Rina) Hey, what harm could happen? I mean, really? Like….? Iiit-It’s not like he can go crazy or kill us with a sword or anything.
Rina: Anything could happen.

Arden pauses and looks at Joshua.

Arden: You seem to be stuttering for some reason.
Joshua: Yes. (to Faria) Are you coming back with us, Shepherd?
Faria: I was hoping to.
Joshua: Glad to have you. I was just curious. Wasn’t sure what your plans were…I’ll prepare your cabin, then.

There being nothing left to discuss, we head downstairs to Iskariot and cautiously approach the sole survivor of the Reaver attack. Arden approaches first.

Arden: Shepherd?

Iskariot looks up.

Arden: Do you remember me?
Iskariot: Doctor… Arden.
Arden: (happy) Yes.
Iskariot: You’re alive.
Arden: (pleased) Yes. And as are you.
Iskariot: If you can call it that.
Arden: Would you mind if I examined you?
Iskariot: I would mind.
Arden: Okay.
Iskariot: To what end would you examine me, Doctor? To cure me?
Arden: Such things are possible, these days.
Iskariot: You think so.

It’s not so much a question as a statement, coming from him.

Arden: I’ve…had a little bit of success with it.
Iskariot: It would be fairly irrational of me to infect myself with a disease only to then ask for the cure.
Arden: True. But you are human and in my experience most humans are irrational.
Iskariot: That much is true. Taking advantage of our irrationality, I’m not sure I approve of.

He looks past Arden at the rest of the crew and his gaze fastens upon Joshua in extreme horror.

Iskariot: Where did you get that thing?

Do what now?

Arden: Joshua is a fine, upstanding, useful member of—
Joshua: I can speak for myself, Arden.
Iskariot: (halfway yelling) That is a mind-killer. A doppelganger. Do you know what that is?
Arden: I don’t care.
Iskariot: That—who put this on your ship?
Arden: We invited him aboard.

Iskariot is thoroughly horrified now.

Iskariot: You invited it aboard?! But why?
Arden: Because he’s an outstanding fellow.
Iskariot: You think I’m irrational for giving myself the Prion disease, but you bring this onto your ship?
Arden: That would be the size of it, yes.
Iskariot: It helped you once.
Arden: He helped us more than once.
Rick: He’s helped us several times.

For his part, Joshua’s getting not a little insulted. He addresses Iskariot directly.

Joshua: Would you like to address any of this to me, Shepherd?
Iskariot: (with loathing) I’m not certain I want to even look at you.
Arden: (to Iskariot) There’s this voodoo priest down on Muir that you really need to talk to. He’s a lot like you.

Joshua can see there’s nothing he can do. He starts to leave the chapel and Iskariot continues his invective.

Iskariot: That creature is a danger to all.
Rick: What is he capable of? What do you know about him?
Iskariot: They are designed to infiltrate and assassinate.

Rina stops Joshua on his way out, whispers to him to stay, and stands by him to lend him her moral support.

Arden: And how would you recognize what he is?
Iskariot: Before I was a Shepherd, I had contacts within the government.
Arden: What, does every one have a mole on the left side of their nose? What? How would you recognize it?
Iskariot: I’ve seen it.
Arden: Him? (points at Joshua)
Iskariot: Erm…you may loosely call it that. That’s part of their idea—
Arden: His face is changed.
Iskariot: —to make you believe.
Arden: You’re still not explaining how you recognized him.
Rick: I have other questions, too.
Arden: (waving Rick forward) Go ahead.
Rick: Were they created by the government or by Blue Sun.

Iskariot gives Rick a look.

Iskariot: What’s the difference?
Rick: And their purpose is to assassinate?
Iskariot: Among other things. But it’s worse than assassination. It’s like…they’re designed to assassinate hope.
Rick: (breathes word) Awesome.

Rina glares at Iskariot.

Rina: (steely) Coming from you I find that highly ironic.
Iskariot: Hope for a better world is all that’s sustained me for most of my life. I knew that I would never enjoy it and perhaps it was my sin of hubris that made me think I could lead others to it, but…. what those creatures are, they’re designed to infiltrate and then destroy the hope that they create. They get in deep. They make friends. They earn your trust and then…they betray you. And it’s not just you. They betray what you stand for.
Arden: You haven’t described anybody else I haven’t already met.
Iskariot: Well. Then perhaps you are safer than the rest.
Arden: No. That’s not what I’m saying. Anybody you let close to you can betray you.
Iskariot: Anyone can betray you… but this thing was designed specifically to betray you.
Rick: But what causes that? Because so far, he is as confused about his origins as we are confused about his origins.
Iskariot: They are like the cephalopods, the octopus that changes color to match those around them. It senses what you want it to be and that confusion makes you feel safe. That you know more than it. That you can take care of it. As you bring it into you like a cancer, it spreads its tendrils through your mind and soul until…the order is given.

All of which has some uncomfortable personal significance for one twitchy Russian engineer, but damned if she’d let Iskariot know it.

Rick: How would the order be given? Do you know? Is it telepathic? Is it a code phrase?
Iskariot: Usually they’re given specific code phrases in dead languages.
Arden: Dead languages.
Rina: Latin. Sanskrit.
Iskariot: Russian.
Rina: Poshyol’ti, pizda.
Iskariot: Usually they use that so that it doesn’t require anyone with specific tongues not to do that. I don’t know. Perhaps your friend is..something different. This Mission is in honor of someone who was able to break that conditioning but…she was a special case to begin with. I don’t know about…that thing.
Arden: ‘She’? Who is this ‘she’?

Iskariot sighs.

Iskariot: She was what led to my rebirth. But she was in part responsible for the Miranda Wave that … that thing’s been moving in the direction that they’ve been going.
Arden: And…um, ‘mission’?

Not ‘mission’ as in job, Arden. Mission as in ‘church’. The compound we’re standing in, as a point of fact.

Rina: (very quietly) So do you believe in redemption and rebirth, Shepherd?
Iskariot: I have hope.
Rina: Well, if it happened once, it can happen again.
Iskariot: I am not going to prolong my life any more. Not with any hospitals or vaccines or…
Arden: I’m surprised you haven’t taken a shuttle and gone out to meet the Horde.
Iskariot: Hm.
Rick: I’m surprised you managed to repel or kill the rest of them and survive.
Rina: How did you do that?
Iskariot: Apparently I was well trained. Not to make the mistakes I’d made in the past. I don’t know. Perhaps you are part of machinations beyond those I’ve borne witness to, but I thought that you had brought him to me. Again my sin of hubris. I am not that important. Why, whatever he was given to you for, it was not an accident.
Arden: He….(gives up) Okay.
Rick: I can see that.
Arden: (to Rick) Don’t encourage him.
Rina: (sighing) I hate to say it, but … it’s possible he crossed our path by design.
Arden: (sarcastic) Sure.
Rick: I’m not worried about. Whatever happens, happens.
Rina: I’m with Rick.
Rick: Plus—I think I know a special lady who could’ve sent him to us. And she’s a fox.

Arden starts to chuckle. Rina is annoyed.

Rina: Your girlfriend? Again?
Rick: In fact, I’ve been thinking about her a lot.
Arden: (to Rick) You are…a very very sad individual.
Rina: (to Arden) He’s an adrenaline junkie.
Arden: He has a thing for Blue Hands!

Arden gesticulates and Iskariot speaks up, his tone very soft and meticulous.

Iskariot: If you’re going to stay here, I appear to have some sort of injury that makes me to respond to sudden movements in inappropriate ways. You might wish to remain very still or retreat to safety.
Arden: Now?
Iskariot: I’m, I…I’m feeling it coming on. I think I can hold it off for a little while….
Rina: Okay, let’s retreat.
Rick: Okay, we’ll let you take a break.
Rina: And Arden, next time we see him? Poke his eyes out.
Arden: (pained) Please.
Rina: Yankin’ your chain, man.

We rejoin Faria, go back to the Gift for privacy and tell him something of what’s gone on.

Joshua: I’m pretty sure he’s not going to be coming with us, unless I…read that completely wrong. He seems to think I’m the tool of the devil and ….uh….You know how you think I’m soulless, or you thought I was soulless, or maybe you still think I’m soulless—
Faria: I didn’t say that.
Joshua: I know. My point is he never referred to me as anything but ‘it’, so I’m pretty sure that my guess is he’s not going to want to come. But that’s not necessarily my decision to make. To be honest, if he wants to come, then it’s fine by me…
Faria: It just may be an affectation. You know how some people feel they have to—have you ever known someone who had a robot that they talk about like a person?
Joshua: Go on.
Faria: It’s sort of distasteful, isn’t it?
Joshua: (yeah, right) Uh-huh.
Faria: Perhaps he was using ‘it’ in that sense. No offense, he was just wanted to make sure—
Joshua: Yeah. Sure. No offense.
Faria: He may have had to put that distinction in his mind to do what he had to do.
Rina: (very dry) Oh. You mean he had to dehumanize Joshua before he could bring himself to insult him.
Faria: Hm. If he thought of it as an insult.
Rina: Yeah. Keep talkin’, Shepherd.
Joshua: I’m pretty sure he didn’t think of me as a person. Which is a, like a, tool
Arden: Designed to kill hope.
Joshua: Really?
Arden: Across the Universe.
Joshua: I’m designed to kill hope.
Arden: Yup.
Joshua: I…didn’t get that in my previous job description. But that’s interesting to know. I’ll file it away. Well, whatever. Is he coming with us?

Jump to: Part 2

Go to: Fais Do-Do | Forward to: Stealing Away Home
Back to Season One: Foundations
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