Friday, 30 November 2012

Eden Paradox - Deleted Scene (1) - The Interview

The following is a 'deleted scene' from the book The Eden Paradox. The scene is best read after the book, or at least after the chapter called Kurana Bay in Part One of the book, which is where this scene would have occurred. I had to delete certain scenes due to the length of the book, but this is one I always felt should have stayed. This is therefore like the 'director's cut' :-) Hope you enjoy it.

Earth – Four Months Earlier – The Final Interview

The door slid closed behind Blake. He stood a moment behind where the interviewer would sit, noting how he would be seen. He walked around the small square table, pulled back his chair and sat down, face to the door and the empty chair, a long rectangular mirror on his left, his back straight. The shrink would be late. Everything Blake did would be monitored. He slowed his breathing, counting each breath.
At inbreath 203 the door opened, revealing a man in his late twenties, wearing a white lab coat. He had dark, lank hair, already thinning at the top, cresting a furrowed brow. It gave Blake the overall impression of a young man continually worried or in conflict with his job. The man didn’t salute, though Blake suspected he was a commissioned officer. He must be good, Blake guessed, to interview him, given their age difference. Never under-estimate, he reminded himself. If I get through this, I have the mission.
The shrink walked to his chair, raked its metal legs against the floor, and sat down, poker-faced. He dropped a yellow file noisily on the desk, unfastened it and opened a sheaf of papers covered with small type-font, and even smaller handwriting. He then planted a Sensex on the desk – a small, black rectangular box with several glass-covered holes.
On seeing it Blake battened down his emotions. The Sensex – Sense Executioner as it was known, analysed all manner of psychological outputs, integrating pheromonal emissions, sweat response, pupil diameter, breathing rate, and speech tone variability; it was the most reliable lie detector ever. Blake tried not to react, knowing that it would already be processing his responses, making judgements, and relaying them live.
The shrink leaned back, holding up one of the pieces of paper, a pen held against his lips, reading intently. Blake didn’t move. The interviewer put the sheet down and smiled again at him with holographic warmth. Blake was being dared to try and read it upside-down, but he didn’t oblige.
‘Good morning, Captain Alexander, Sir,’ he said, voice smooth and studied. ‘Just a few points I need to go over with you.’ The man glanced downwards, and began reading aloud.
            ‘Let’s see. Age forty-six. Optimal age profile thirty-five; recommended limit forty-two.’ He glanced at Blake, and continued. ‘Decorated four times. Forty-eight missions in the War, including two battles on the Moon. Successfully defended Zeus I. Married. One son, killed in the War eight years ago. Stayed rank Captain, despite attempts to promote to higher position. Quoted reason – I do what I’m best at – pushing people not paper.’ He frowned. ‘Forty-six. Hmm.’
            Blake spoke up. ‘If there’s a point, son, I’m afraid you’ll have to get to it. I won’t help you since I don’t know what your point is. Concerning my age, we both know the limit is only a recommendation, and I’m medically fit. The role is executive, decision-making, and our current President is sixty-two. So, I don’t think we’re here to discuss my age.’
He watched for a reaction when he’d said ‘son’ – he knew this ingrained automatism, a remnant from his upbringing, pissed a lot of people off – but he saw none, nor did the interviewer glance toward the mirror. He’s better than he lets on.
            The man gave a curt official smile. ‘No. Quite so, Sir; absolutely right.’
            Blake pressed home. ‘So I’m guessing you’re the shrink. I’ve passed all the other evaluations, and the press conference on the decision is called for tomorrow morning, so the choice for Captain of the mission has to be made tonight. I’m also guessing you’re at odds with the rest of the evaluation team, but I might be wrong. So, why don’t you save us both time, and cut to the chase.’
            The interviewer closed the file, put down the pen, and sat back.
            ‘Actually I’m not a shrink, I’m a psychologist.’
            Blake raised an eyebrow. ‘Difference?’
            ‘We call psychoanalysts and psychiatrists ‘shrinks’ – as in old head-shrinker tribes, who used to cut off the heads of enemies and shrink them. Psychologists don’t generally try to change people’s heads through use of chemicals, manipulation, or implants – we try to understand people, and help people understand themselves better. We use less invasive procedures.’ He paused, then added. ‘No shrinkage.’
            ‘I see,’ Blake said. ‘Well, I’ve learned something today.’ He omitted the ‘son’.
The interviewer glanced down at the yellow file, then straight at Blake. ‘Kurana Bay, sir. That’s the problem.’
Blake shifted position in his chair, causing a shrill scraping noise. He’d been anticipating this for the past six months. It always came back to this.
            ‘I’m afraid you’ll have to be more specific. What aspect of Kurana Bay?’
The interviewer folded his arms, continuing to meet Blake’s gaze. ‘You and your platoon went in and rescued those boys, against all odds, brought them safely home, and took out a ghoster processing unit.’
            They continued to stare at each other, neither one blinking.
            ‘The point is, Sir, although clearly heroic, you lost eighteen of your own men to rescue twelve boys. Was that the right tactical decision?’
            Blake briefly considered giving a pat, technical answer, but decided against it. He’d been told one thing about the Forces’ psychs – they detect lies and attempts to hide the truth as naturally as a shark smells blood. Glenda had advised him the night before that if it got tricky, give him what all psychs want to see – inner emotion. Blake decided to take her advice, and he had plenty of pent-up emotion on this particular issue. In any case, he wasn’t going to pretend to be someone else to get this command. He leaned forwards.
            ‘Why don’t you ask the twelve boys? Or their mothers?’
            The interviewer leaned forward, too, with an immediate riposte.
            ‘Or the mothers of the eighteen men who died following you?’
            Their faces were centimetres apart. Blake’s breathing was measured; the interviewer’s was a little heavy, not quite under control. Blake sat back and stared toward the opposite wall, speaking as if from far away.
            ‘I made, as you say, a tactical decision. We found out about them, those boys, barely men, no older than my son had been. Knew they were being interrogated – tortured – and knew what the enemy had in store for them.’ He paused.

It surfaced again. The screaming, the shouting, the flashes of rapid pulse fire in the depth of night, lighting up the blood-soaked carcasses of his men on the floor.
‘For Christ’s sake, shoot Blake! Shoot!’ Zack was yelling at him.
He aimed. He fired. He watched it explode.

Blake pushed the memory back, deeper. Locked it away again. His right hand twitched. He moved it under the table, though he reckoned the Sensex must have just gone off-scale. He spoke in a quieter voice.
‘There was no time for back-up. They were going to be moved later that day. I talked it over with my men. We knew the odds were lousy. They wanted to go in. War ain’t all maths. Mainly it’s guts. But when you’re out there, in the Burmese jungle, thousands of miles from home, deep behind enemy lines, all you have is each other. It’ll sound clich├ęd, I know, but the headlines, the rules, the strategies, sometimes they don’t mean squat. You fight to stay alive. You fight to keep those alive that help you stay alive. And then…’ he paused. He got up, walked over to the mirror and put his back to it, facing the interviewer.
            ‘There are ugly things that happen in any war. Always have been, always will be. You know what they would have done to those boys. The enemy were certain we wouldn’t risk a rescue mission so deep behind enemy lines. We had to show them we wouldn’t desert our own.’
            Blake’s face momentarily allowed some of the pain he held in to be seen by the psych, but not the cameras behind the mirror. Let the Sensex chew on that.
The psych nodded back toward Blake’s chair. ‘Please.’
            Blake dutifully returned to his seat.
‘In any case, we rescued those boys, destroyed the facility, and took out more than a hundred of the enemy. After Kurana Bay, they stopped carrying out raids to capture our men for ghoster ops. So, you tell me. Was it the right decision?’
The interviewer raised an eyebrow, then wrote something in the file.
            ‘Something that you won’t find in the records,’ Blake continued. ‘I visited each of the families of those eighteen men personally. Not all of them were exactly pleased to see me, as you can imagine.’ He cleared his throat.
            The interviewer glanced over to the mirror. Five seconds later the door opened and a glass of water was brought in. Blake appreciated the efficiency of the operation, and stole a few cooling sips. ‘Thanks,’ he said.
            The interviewer waited a few more seconds, then resumed. ‘This won’t be a military mission, Sir. You – if selected, that is – would be Captain, but on a primarily scientific mission. You have a lot of scientific knowledge yourself, of course, but if the context is scientific, you’ll have to follow the Science Officer’s lead. I’ll be direct. Could you take orders from a scientist if it comes to it?’
            Blake gave a short laugh. ‘Hell, I’ve taken orders from so many dumb assholes I think I should be able to take them from a smart one.’ Inside, he wondered if he could.
            The interviewer nodded. He picked up his pen, and opened the file again. ‘No regrets about Kurana Bay, sir? Would you do it again?’
            Blake shifted himself back into his straight back pose. ‘I still have the nightmares mentioned in that file. But it comes down to this: who do you need as Captain on this mission? If the going gets tough – like Kurana Bay – you’ll need someone who can get out of there, who can salvage the mission, and make tough command decisions, with absolutely no back-up.’
            The interviewer took a deep breath. ‘Actually, Sir, the question is: what really happened in Kurana Bay?’
            Blake’s own breathing halted. He pursed his lips. ‘I’m not sure I …’
            ‘You lied. Your deposition after Kurana Bay. I watched the interviews over and over. We didn’t have Sensex then, but you were hiding something. You’re definitely hiding it now.’ He glared at Blake.
            Blake’s throat went dry. He suppressed a strong urge to cough, or look at anything but the psychologist. His mind raced, but he knew he couldn’t answer, not with the truth, at any rate. He was cornered. But he’d rather let this command slip through his fingers. There was only one way out.
            He stood up. ‘This interview is terminated,’ he said.
            The interviewer shot to his feet, leaning forward. ‘I’m asking you, for the last time, what really happened?’
            ‘Why don’t you ask Zack?’
            The interviewer snorted, said ‘Sure,’ and sat down, staring at the file. He pinched the bridge of his nose. ‘You realise,’ he said, ‘that if I say you’re not mentally fit, you don’t fly this mission. Not even General Kilaney can countermand a medical judgement.’
            Blake leaned on the table, close to him. ‘Like I said, the real question is this: who’s the best man for the job? Period. We all make decisions, good and bad ones, and we live with them. This one’s yours.’
            The psych didn’t look up. ‘My answer will be on the CO’s desk in an hour. Thank you for your time – Sir.’
            Blake straightened, and walked to the door.
            ‘One more thing, Captain. A warning. Whatever happened in Kurana Bay – whatever really happened – you still carry it with you. It’s like a flaw in a diamond. Too much pressure …’ He didn’t finish the sentence.
Blake glanced sideways at his own reflection in the mirror. ‘I’ll bear it in mind.’

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