I shamefully admit I was relatively unfamiliar with Okane before these investigations. Luckily, there is abundant information available in the archives, including this transcript of an interview conducted by The Athenian. And yes, I’m aware of the public perception of them as puppets of the government, heavily censored and spouting propaganda, but I’m also not an idiot and know how to separate fact from talking heads spouting Minervan Dogma. Regardless, this was a key turning point in the public’s perception of Okane that lead to him being able to do what he did.
The Cost of Valor
By Simon Pabst January 15, 2070
Some have called him our generation’s Alexander the Great. Some have called him a suicidal madman. One thing that all observers can agree upon is that the newly-promoted Lieutenant Colonel Fionn Okane is single-minded in his duty to protecting his people. So single-minded, in fact, that he has only just returned from a six year campaign in the field to pacify the encroaching barbarian hordes. After ignoring and rejecting numerous opportunities for relief, Lieutenant Colonel Okane caused a whirlwind of speculation earlier this month when he finally relented to Commander Melkonian’s personal requests to return home. I had the honor to speak to the Lieutenant Colonel over breakfast this morning about his decision to become an officer of Aegis, his time in the field, and the health implications of his long tour of duty. This is Okane’s first interview since he has been cleared by Quarantine.
First off, how do you feel?
O: I feel clean. That sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it? But it’s not. After awhile, you know, the dirt just fills in your cracks, and it completes you. I took a shower in the quarantine zone and I felt like I washed my skin right off.
Is that why you refused to come home? Do you prefer it out there?
O: Cutting right to the big questions. I like that. You know, I entered Aegis as a commissioned officer, what with my father being who he is and my mother being who she is. I knew that Minerva wouldn’t survive without protectors, and I knew, from an early age, that I would give my life to keep her safe. I was deployed close to home – no doubt my father’s loving hand. One day, after I’d set up camp with my team, I overheard one of my men smoking and telling jokes behind a rock. He said to his friend, ‘back in the world, don’t ever let anybody call you sir.’ The other man asked him why not. A reasonable question, I thought. ‘You tell ’em I’m not a sir,’ he said. ‘I work for a living.’
That really bruised me. I already felt self-conscious about my commission. I felt like I hadn’t earned anything in my life. That night, I decided I was going to work for it. I was going to earn my rank and the respect of my men, I was going to keep Minerva safe, and I knew I could never do it from behind a desk. So here I am.
How do your men feel about you now?
O: I’ve heard stories about myself. They’re greatly exaggerated, I can assure you. It’s strange, though, hearing your own legends. I can assume my hard work has paid off. I know I’ve saved lives, and that’s all that matters.
Even at the expense of your own health?
O: Absolutely. Everything that’s worth doing comes at a cost. That was the cost, and I paid the bill.
Can you give us some details on your quarantine evaluation?
O: I have two malignant tumors. Cancer of the stomach and cancer of the testes. Stage two and stage one, respectively. The med techs are pretty confident I’ll be able to pull through, but the chances that I’ll be able to eat solid foods and, ah, remain fertile after treatment are almost zero.
You seem to be taking this rather well.
O: I’ll live, for now. And I’ll never have children, but that doesn’t bother me. I feel that…I feel that Aegis is my family. They’re all my sons and daughters. If you look at it that way, I’ve got more children than Genghis Khan.
An apt comparison, considering your success in defeating the barbarian tribes and securing a foothold for Minerva in the region. But how does your wife feel about the news?
O: I can’t say she’s thrilled about it.
What about the Optimal Breeding Pact? Has Glaucus contacted you about reassigning her to a fertile male?
O: I think that’s enough big questions for one day. If you don’t mind, I’ve got to get to my first chemo appointment.
My apologies, sir. Thank you for your time.
O: You know what? I don’t mind it if you call me that. After all, I work for a living.
While it was clear that the Lieutenant Colonel’s family has been impacted by this news, he maintained a calm, jovial attitude throughout our breakfast together. He even shook my hand before leaving for his first chemotherapy treatment. If this is the bill that Fionn Okane must pay for his legendary service, then the man appears to have very deep pockets.
-Even I have to admit, he was a very compelling personality. Here is the next section of testimony from Mrs. Beshimov about her experience with The Family and The Dust Witch.
Can I to have water, please?
Of course, Mrs. Beshimov. I’m sorry. We’ll get you back to the triage center as soon as we’ve finished your testimony.
Thank you. It hurt to speak, but I must tell of my story.
Just let us know if we can get you anything for your throat.
You were saying? Kelter grabbed you and somebody set off a flare. Do you know who?
Yes, but not then. Amon Kelter, he push me with the barrel of APC cannon, and I walk him to our home. I do not know what become of piss yellow coward Hamid, but I walk home, because home is my husband in my mind. I do not think, I only smell the horrible…the horrible shit stink of Amon Kelter, the machine oil of his tank suit, the fresh gunpowder that steam from the APC cannon. The Family, they all smell of blood and shit, but Amon Kelter…he smell to choke a pig. He smell to make my mind come separate of my body. My mind, it say “Hamid, he is not home,” but my body, it walk us there still.
My mind, it wonder why everybody want with dickless Hamid. The Family, the Dust Witch, all come for my dirt stain husband. He is born in the desert, like me. He has no rank with Minerva. He is trained for to open the gate and fix the wall and for all other things, he is useless. It seem strange to me, and I wonder why he really leave the gate open this morning.
We cross the square, and a Family brother join us. I look as I walk to my home. Two APC sit in the road, one by the hangar to load machine supply, where another man in tank armor stand like a statue, and one by north gate to load young women by point of gun. One man, Myrzakan, he run out of crowd and reach for his wife. Two Family brother jump to him and one stab at him with screwdriver. The animal-men, they wave their guns, but they do not shoot. And I know in my separate mind that they look afraid.
I take Amon Kelter and the brother into my home. It is empty, still, dark. No Hamid. Not even the smell of his piss. Amon Kelter, he not fit under the roof, and he bend his bald owl head.
“Where is he?” they ask. I do not know. I tell them. Amon Kelter, he smash his armored elbow on the table. The table crack in half and fall to pieces.
“Then we wait,” he say. The other animal-man, he come up to me. He stick his red face, dirty as a shoe, he stick it into my neck. I feel him smell my hijab. His sour air suck the fabric in and out. With his teeth, he bite the cloth and unravel it. He let it fall to the floor and my head is uncover and I begin to cry.
If this is too painful for you, Mrs. Beshimov, you can just give us the facts.
No. It help me to tell it. I must tell someone, or I never tell anyone and it come to me when I close my eye instead. Maybe still. But I must try to tell. While we wait, another animal-man, he come into my home. He carry a small tripod launcher. Aegis, they use this sometime to launch hawks and flares. The Family brother, he say he find this at the top of the cliff. Amon Kelter, he ask if there any sign of her, any footstep or trap. I know that “her” is Nightshade, the Dust Witch. She shoot the flare to panic the Family, by magic or remote, I do not know.
He look at me, and he say, “Let’s talk about the woman who burn our brother. Which way she go?”
My tears increase. I know I cannot say where. But before he smash me like the table, our home vidphone light and beep. The caller say “Hamid Beshimov.”
The brother who take my hijab, he pick up the speaker. I only hear pieces, but I can tell from what happen next. He ask Hamid where he hide, and he get angry the more he speak. He ask where the ammunition. The Family brother, he spit and scream. Hamid, he can do this to anyone. The man with his face like a shoe, he put down the speaker.
“He will not tell the coordinates until we leave,” he say to Amon Kelter.
Kelter, he say, “Tell him we have his wife.”
The man, he say Hamid knows this. He say Hamid watch us right now. He say to leave me, leave the town, and he will send coordinates. Coordinates to ammunition. Pig shit scum dog. I understand why he leave the gate open. I understand why he say we will live. He make a deal. He deal with the Family for to let our men be slaughter like goats and our women to be taken to breed, and he arm these demon creatures so they can prey on our people forever. Now you understand why I cannot say “Hamid Beshimov” without a curse to make my mother stop her heart?
Amon Kelter, he look at me, and his owl eye blink once. Then he say “We have no time for this,” and then he leave. The man with speaker, he tell Hamid where to transmit, then he slam the vidphone off the wall. The Family leave, and I fall to the floor between broken halfs of table. I sit and cry for some time. There is yelling outside, engines fire and doors slam. I recognize each engine sound, and I wait until all sounds are distant echo before I stand again.
Then, I hear the back door open. I look and see Hamid come in with smile on his face. He smile at me! Gahba! He have a transmitter and he speak numbers, coordinates to the Family. When he finish, he throw down the transmitter and come to me with his arms open.
“I tell you. We are safe,” he say. I jump on him and shove him into the wall.
“Kool zegayn!” I scream into his face. It mean, ah…eat two shits. I dig my fingernail into his face, and he push me away. He seem surprised. He beg, he pretend to be hurt. I scream over him. He try to back away, and he move toward the door to cellar. I jump at him again, and he try to throw me off, but he is weak, and I am strong from to work in the hangar. I throw him into the door, and it swing open. Hamid, he fall into cellar – he miss the stair and land right on his neck. I hear the bone break and I look down at him. He lie twisting in the dirt, and there is a choking sound from his throat. I feel excitement. I feel no pity. Is this a crime, Lieutenant Martinez?
You’re not under arrest, Mrs. Beshimov. It’s not up to us to decide. Your testimony will be reviewed by the judiciary board.
I don’t make the decisions, ma’am, but it sounds like an accident to me.
Good. Then I will say it is an accident. I will say that I spit on this broken accident of a man and when I turn around, I see the Dust Witch stand in my house. Her eyes, they glow green with the spirits of the dead, and the cloth that cover her mouth, I see a third eye there. This symbol is known to me. It is the blessing of Kassyki-Ulpa, moon goddess of the north tribes. These tribes, they are no more, but their legend are told so that the spirits remain. Nightshade, this give her power, the spirits that she take from the sand. The blood that she take from the bandit and the madman, it give her power too, harvest like grain with her rifle she call Tom Fury. But I go ahead of myself. To me, in my home, she say that Hamid Beshimov is a traitor. I tell her I know, and it is too late. I tell her the Family already gone. I start to get angry. I think Nightshade, she come to save Gulnara from the madman, but Gulnara is raped and the women and supplies are take by them.
She say she know. She say, “They leave for the north. I will follow them to their home and I will bring your people back.”
“How?” I ask her. She curl her finger to me and lead me outside. In the street, the dead are pile in broken stalls and bloody dirt. Men sit and cry like child. In the road, stand in the huge tire track of the Family APC, there is stone brown Arabian horse.
“This is Uriah,” she say. “Those vehicles, they run on gasoline and solar power, but Uriah, he run on the wind.”
I tell her, “If you go to bring back our people, I come with you.”
She tell me I slow her down. She tell me to tend to Gulnara. I tell her I need to see these men die, or I never sleep again.
“You do not trust me?” she ask. I tell her I do not trust anyone now. I am surprise her green spirit glow disappear, and her sad brown eyes look at me over the cold open eye of Kassyki-Ulpa.
She say she take me as spotter. But she say I promise to not slow her, and I nod my head.
“Your job is to watch,” she say as she jump up on Uriah. I walk up and climb to be behind her. “Keep down your head, Mrs. Beshimov.”
I tell her call me Saira. She tell me nothing and Uriah, he run from the town. We follow the tire track bite in the dirt, until the track become flat sand and the Dust Witch, she guide us with her spirit magic alone into the desert.
-I recognize the description of this symbol Nightshade wore on her face. It was worn by the rebels at Terekat, as described in Thalia Gordon’s exposé. It is interesting that she would adopt it as her personal symbol. Here is the next of her logs I uncovered.
February 19, 2096
I’m going to kill her. I’m going to kill her. I’m going to bloody kill her. Strangle her with one of her own choke holds. Just back from assignment in the Caliphate and she took all my morphine. Snide bitch even tried to rub my nose in it.
“Did the target give you any trouble, flower? You look like you haven’t slept in weeks. But don’t worry, I’ve cleaned the place up while you were gone. You should lie down.”
She leaned so heavily on the word clean, I would have to be a fool to miss it. Surely enough, I checked under my cot and it was gone. The entire box, vanished. Has she known about it this whole time? Has she waited a year to strike, biding her time for the moment I would need it most? And if so, how could she know that this night, after this assignment, I would be so desperate for the timeless peace?
She knew it was my first assassination, of course, but she couldn’t have known about Luther. Even if she’d bugged the safehouse, we weren’t there when it happened. We were staying in that awful inn, and she couldn’t have known we would have to move to get closer to the Sheikh. Maybe she tracked the assembly somehow. This must be punishment for what we did. Or perhaps punishment for my mere existence. If she knows about us, she didn’t let on. Or did she? All she seemed to care about after I’d showered was the new equipment General Kubek would be sending me.
“Your shears, Atropos,” she said, laying out the blueprints for a strange forked sniper rifle. I sat at the stainless steel table with a tea smoking in my hand. I felt ill, as if I were coming down with the flu. I thought the tea might help, but if anything, I feel worse now. “They’re calling it a Variable Precision Rifle. It’s collapsible, for the secret agent on the go. Totally silent magnetic firing system with a maximum range of 2,000 meters. Capable of holding five different ammunition types, and in its portable form, the barrel is supposed to dock with attachments, though our friends in Glaucus are still working on those.”
I can only recall the details of this conversation by the fact that it took place less than an hour ago. I feel nauseous and it seems impossible to focus on anything, but I can’t sleep, I have nothing to read, and I’m nearly too sore to move. Yes, this must be punishment for my existence. Only a sin of that magnitude could have provoked such cruelty.
She showed me the plans for a servosuit as well. I recoiled, though I didn’t immediately understand why. It must be the memories of Terekat stabbing through the fog to terrorize me again in subconscious nerve twitches. This little resembled the Hercules servosuits that stalked me through the subterranean labs, though. It was light, more like the skeletal frames that Aegis once deployed.
“Don’t worry, flower. It’s not going to bite,” Summerland told me, putting on that shark smile. “They’re calling this the Atalanta Powered Armour. She was the lady version of Hercules, if you remember. It’s designed more for stealth and power than protection.” I also remember Atalanta was a sworn virgin. Funny, that.
“Looks like the old model suits,” I mumbled. “My third father wore one. He said they were always locking up and running out of battery.”
“Oh, yes. Karim Hassan. You’ve had so many fathers, haven’t you? But how many mothers have you had?”
“Just the one,” I said.
“Why do you think that might be? Have you always been fascinated with masculinity?”
“You talk like a man, you walk like a man. You even eat like a man, my love. Do you seek out fathers because you identify with them?”
Again, she attempts to psychoanalyze me. I thought she would have learned by now that the only person on this dead world qualified to psychoanalyze me is myself.
“I’ve lived many lives, but I’ve only been born once,” I seethed. I hoped she would catch the warning in my tone, but the bitch can be as impenetrable as the polar caps when she wants to be.
“You think mothers are only good for popping out babies?”
“That’s not what I said.”
“Oh, but it is,” she purred. “People say so many strange and interesting things without actually using the words. You may not understand it yet, but there are benefits to accepting your femininity. Especially in our line of work.”
Was that a hint? Her expression didn’t flicker. There was no pregnant emphasis in her voice. But now that I write it out, it seems far too coincidental, and she’s far too clever.
“Do you expect me to sleep with the enemy? Tart myself up like you do and seduce men into spilling all their secrets?”
“Men are at their most vulnerable when they’re in the presence of a lady that’s been ‘tarted up,’” she said, using my accent and those abominable air quotes. I’ll break her index fingers if she does them again. “But don’t worry. We know about your medical history, and Kubek doesn’t expect me to mold you in my image. My equipment is in much better condition than yours.”
“Still, after all the wear and tear?” I jabbed, feeling petty and not really caring much about it. She continued to smile, as if she hadn’t heard me. I’d have better luck drilling to the Earth’s core.
“Speaking of equipment, the new suit shouldn’t lock up like those ancient Hercules units. Our friends in Glaucus told me you’d be spry as a gazelle in one of these.” Just like that, she’d swept the conversation away into some unfathomable corner of the universe.
“Will this get me any closer to taking down Okane?”
“Of course not,” she said. Oh, what I could do to her with a rail gun. “A mature flower has three distinct parts. There’s the beautiful blossom on top – very bold, very eye-catching. Everyone sees that. If you look closer, there’s a plain but purposeful stem supporting those sweet petals. The third part is the most important by far, and it’s the part that no one can see, because if a flower is to survive, it must keep its ugly roots hidden. You’re still all roots, my little sprig of Nightshade. You’ve barely begun to bud.”
What if Summerland is a double agent working for Okane? That would explain all this heel dragging. That would explain the endless torture. She’s killing me by degrees, and General Kubek has no idea. I have to e-mail him immediately. But will he believe my word over hers? I wish I could contact Luther, but he’s no longer an option. Not now. God, why can’t I will myself to sleep? It really didn’t hurt as badly as I thought it would, but the fear was enough to ruin it for both of us. I’d be seeing that trowel in my nightmares if I still had the capacity to dream.
I think I’ll go look for my morphine box. Perhaps she’s just hidden it.
A very troubled young woman, to have such dangerous and powerful equipment. And if what I’m uncovering is correct, she knows how to use them with deadly precision.
[Essence of Nightshade was written by guest contributor Josh Connor, author of the webcomic Steel Salvation, with Dan providing story guidance to make it canon along with writing the archivist commentary. Art by Robert Jackson.]