- 4 -

My turn.  That was only fair, but I certainly didn't look forward to the experience.

If I were Brisbois, I would have been laughing at us, at the way we were playing this tag team game.  None of the others had been able to break him yet, and none of us could really stand to be with the worm for more than a few hours at a time without being inspired to excess.  I paid my dues after lunch, with Trowa electing to take this time as well to get to know our captive.

Our thief was still dressed in the mismatched clothing that Trowa had thrown at him as we left the hotel room.  I was not particularly surprised that no one had yet bothered to inform the man that his shirt was misbuttoned.  With the more than five o'clock shadow and the rumpled hair that had been run through too many times with nervous fingers, it looked like he was being worn out by us, and yet his eyes still burned with that same righteousness they had when we had first brought him in.

I hated fanatics.  And I really hoped that I never looked like that after I had been through twenty-four hours in a flight suit, with only adrenaline and maybe a protein bar to fuel my body.

Trowa was leaning against the wall again, arms crossed in a deceptively casual pose.  It was an interesting choice of positions, and coincidentally pointed out to me how long his legs were.  He still had that lanky, acrobat's build, and probably maintained it with working for muscle tone rather than mass.  I remember discussing with him once how overgrown muscles could inhibit one's freedom of movement.

Brisbois was seated in a chair at a table, facing a one-way mirror.  Quatre was on the other side of the glass.  I took the seat opposite Brisbois, putting my back to the window.  It made me a little antsy leaving my back exposed to an unseen observer, but I dealt with it.

So far, what mostly had been exchanged were insults peppered with threats and pleas.  I decided to indulge in no such thing.  Instead, I just sat calmly in my seat, leaning back in a comfortable slouch with my arms across my chest, and I stared at him, trying to figure him out.

How had this man grown a backbone?  His profile didn't indicate that he should have such conviction in him.  I studied him until I finally recognized that light in his eyes.  It was conviction, alright.  Passion.  Righteousness.  Purpose.  He showed all the signs; he was a believer.  The question was, a believer in what?

"You're not in this for the money," I stated to him.  It was just a repetition of what he had told us in his hotel room when we had apprehended him, and it had been confirmed by our study of his records.  After looking deeply into his financials, we had found no signs of any payments or kickbacks, plus no signs that indicated he might be expecting a large payoff soon.  There was still the possibility that he had some off-planet account somewhere that we had been unable to locate, but we didn't think it likely.  Trowa and Wufei had also gone back to Brisbois' apartment to look things over, but didn't find any convenient mattresses stuffed with cash, nor any other suspicious evidence that the original investigators might have missed.

"Didn't I already say that?" he sneered at me.

That was annoying.  I felt the need to humble him.   "And you're not in this for war or for peace."

"I don't like repeating myself."

Funny.  That was what he had been doing ever since his capture.  "Why don't you tell me something new, then?"

"The body temperature of the arctic ground squirrel lowers to below freezing when it hibernates."

"Really?  I didn't know that.  That's interesting.  What sort of triggers does it use to wake up again?  Or is it just the shift in the weather that naturally brings it out of its hibernatory state?"

It pleased me when he grit his teeth and didn't answer, opting instead to stare a hole in the wall to his right.  Pity.  I wanted to know.  Perhaps I'd look into the arctic ground squirrel some time, but not any time soon.

My eyes flicked to Trowa, who had a slight smile lingering around the edges of his face, and I shrugged.  Looking back at Brisbois, I sorted through the possibilities and pursued another line of questioning.  "Do you care?"

The question was non sequitur enough that he reflexively responded.  "Huh?"

"Whether there's war or peace.  Do you care one way or another?"  When he didn't answer for a couple of seconds, I offered my own opinion.  "I'm rather fond of the peace, myself.  It's so much easier to get things done in peacetime.  Of course, in your line of work, maybe a war makes things more interesting?  There isn't as much geopolitical maneuvering when everyone's getting along, is there?"

"There is," he answered grudgingly.  Could it be he took pride in his work?  That I had touched some nerve that compelled him to share his vision?  "It's just that everyone is more subtle about it.  It's more interesting than war sometimes, actually."

"Even more than the last war, with Treize Khushrenada at the helm of an army?  The man was nothing if not subtle."  There were some days I wished I understood the good general better than I did.  His death seemed a lost chance for a greater wisdom.

Brisbois eyed me suspiciously, as if wondering just what sort of trap I was trying to lead him into, but I guess there was no duplicity to be found in my expression.  There was no trap.  I just thought I'd literally 'chat him up', and see what I could see.   Finally, he answered guardedly.  "Treize Khushrenada was a fool bent upon his own destruction."

Well, it was good to know he didn't represent yet another Treize separatist faction.  There had been so many of them already, it would have been passť for there to be another.  "Perhaps.  But he could have just eaten a bullet.  He didn't.  He concealed his plans from us all until his elaborate, triumphant end."

"Triumphant, indeed," Brisbois sniffed, his admiration poorly disguised by disdain.  "That a man could arrange circumstances to win despite defeat is an example of brilliance unrivaled."

"That a man's death could be equal to his life?"  When I had pressed my little red button, it was quite nearly, according to Brisbois, a moment of unrivaled brilliance.  I did not think it would be productive to point that out, however, and kept my amusement to myself.

"Martyrdom is a long cherished institution."

He lingered a little too long on the words.  So he liked martyrdom, did he?  "Classical definitions of martyrdom state that the martyr must be a victim of others."

"Classical definitions are long outdated."

"And are you the victim here, Brisbois?" I asked, deciding to get to the point.  Waxing any more eloquently on philosophical matters would be pointless.  "Are you taking the fall for your comrades?  Becoming a martyr to your cause?"

For a moment there, it looked like he was almost about to answer me before he caught himself.  "Oh, very good," he said, a low chuckle shading his tone.  "You don't even know what my cause is, Agent."

"Does it really matter?" I asked, knowing full well how much the cause mattered to a believer.

Sure enough, that riled him up a bit.  "Of course it matters!  Where would we be in this life if we didn't believe in something?"

"Seeking a little direction in this open-ended world," I responded complacently, undisturbed by his outburst.  "I can relate.  It can be difficult to make that transition from war to peace."

Wrong answer, apparently.  He put on that scornful expression again.  "You cannot relate.  All you can see is still just war and peace.  Can't see past the end of your own nose."

I ignored the insult.  "Do you have any idea what it is you stole?"

"I know better than you do."

He had said as much to Quatre.  Normally, I might find such words ominous, but not coming from him.  I didn't believe him in the slightest.  "Then you know how it was used for war and peace."

"I know how it has been used, but I know how else it can be used."

Good.  I had appealed to his need to feel superior to me.  Duo's theory was proving once again true.  Arrogant fools consistently proved their foolishness with their compulsion to share it with others.  "So you aren't interested in using it against others?"

"Of course not," he sniffed disdainfully.  "I told you, there's more to life than war and peace.  The system can be used to benefit everyone."

"I can see some of those possibilities."  I didn't want to name them in case he had no idea what he was talking about.  "What I don't see is why anyone interested in those possibilities would be the type to remove the system illegally from a government installation."

"The Preventers have no right to keep it from the people!"  His fist came down on the tabletop for emphasis.  Like any good believer, he didn't believe he was guilty of any wrongdoing.

I watched him silently as he recovered from his tiny outburst, tugging his shirt back into order and adjusting his seat.  Poor man still didn't realize his shirt was never going to straighten out with the uneven buttoning.  "Do you think it's better off in the hands of the people?  Do you have the right to make that decision?"

"The facts speak for themselves."  He spoke it forcefully, but not as loudly as his last exclamation.  I resisted the urge to prompt him as to which facts he might be referring.  With only a steady stare, I managed to shake him into giving me what I wanted.  "Its technology far surpasses anything else available today, and what have the Preventers been doing with all that processing power?  Letting it gather dust in a secured vault!"

"They had just taken it out when you decided to remove it from the labs."

"To do what?  Poke and prod at it?  Use it for military applications again?  That is a waste of technology when it could be used to analyze the human--"  He cut himself off suddenly, realizing that he had been about to tell me his secret.  Damn.

I couldn't get anything more out of him after that.

We left him and rejoined Quatre on the other side of the glass.  To my surprise, Duo was by his side, wielding that strangely intent expression on me again.  I lifted an eyebrow in inquiry at him, then left him to chew on that for a bit as I got myself a cup of hot water from the cooler in the corner.  

Holding the cup beneath my nose with both hands, I inhaled the light steam and imagined that the cup contained something other than just plain water.  That, and a sip, helped to clear away some of the tension.  The little white holding cell didn't get very good ventilation.

Duo finally responded to my silent question.  "You made small talk with him."

He'd been watching for a while, then.  He must have finished up his questioning of Brisbois' fellow analysts.  I shrugged in response to his observation and took another sip of my water.  "Martyrdom counts as small talk?"

"Or would you be referring to the arctic ground squirrels?" Trowa asked, once again amused.

I smiled.  "I was surprised that he knew anything about them.  He doesn't strike me as the sort that would have any interest in nature."  Speaking of which, I turned to Quatre to see if he had a better idea of Brisbois' character.  "So, did you get anything from that?"

Quatre finally turned his thoughtful gaze away from the window.  "This really does have nothing to do with war or peace.  He really believes what he was saying, about Zero having some other application, but I didn't get the feeling that he had a solid basis for that.  Whoever it was that convinced Brisbois to steal Zero probably fed him the right lines, told him what he wanted to hear.  He's not as idealistic as he sounds; there's some deeply personal reason for why he bought into the hype, but he doesn't acknowledge it.  As for what the hype was, what this alternate application for Zero is... I can't say.  But the people behind this fabricated a plausible story.  It might even be true.  They had to have had the proper background and references to make it convincing.   Brisbois thinks the whole thing is legit.  His supposed cause is nothing illegal.  He believes he is firmly in the right, and we are wrong.  If we could prove otherwise, we might be able to shake him enough to give us some more information on his contact."

"If we could prove otherwise, we would already know who his contact is and what he wants," Trowa said.  Quatre shrugged ruefully in response.  Brisbois wouldn't give us any basic information on finding his contact, but perhaps he would be useful if we needed more in-depth information after we figured it out on our own.  On the other hand, we doubted he had any deeper information to give.

"Analyze the human... what?" Duo mused aloud.  "There aren't that many words that fit in there, are there?  Analyze the human... the human...  The only things I can think of would be things Zero couldn't analyze, like the human condition, or the human instinct for survival, or some human emotional response... I mean, what is there about being human that a computer could analyze?"

He was right.  There was very little about being human that was logical enough for a computer to process, even one as advanced as Zero.  We continued to think about it as we headed back to our office.  "Some component of humanity?" I proposed in due time.  "Not emotional, but physical, perhaps?  Like the human brain, the human genome, something quantifiable.  It makes more sense that something that could 'benefit' mankind or society would be some sort of science or advance in technology."

"Well, if that were the case, Zero itself is an advance in technology," Quatre said, reminding us of what Brisbois had said.   "I shudder to think of what Zero could do in the hands of the layperson."

I wasn't sure what drove me to defend the system.  "He's not entirely incorrect, you know.  Zero does have non-military applications.  Not that I would leave it in the hands of the layperson since there are so many military or offensive applications, but still.  Zero in the right hands could do a lot of things."

"Zero in the wrong hands can do a lot of things, too, and that's the problem."  Trowa somehow managed to sound completely calm and ominous at the same time.

I couldn't deny that, though for some reason I wanted to.   Zero was a tool, and a tool's use depended on its user.  I wondered what sort of user, if any, would want to apply a computer's logic to the human condition.  Even I wasn't that misguided.

An out of place movement caught my eye as we walked, and I glanced to the side to see Duo's lips moving silently, half-formed words echoing his thoughts.  The faint motions weren't enunciated enough to give anything away to a lip-reader, but they were enough to indicate that his mind was chewing on some matter.  Shortly before we arrived at the door to our office, he pulled a notepad out of his book and skimmed it.  I caught sight of the page.  A brief study of it showed me nothing but an illegible scrawl, but a more than passing study of it towards the end of the war had given me hints that it was perhaps a shorthand system designed to look like nothing more than an illegible scrawl.

Chang looked up from his desk as we filed in, a stack of folders next to his open laptop.  "Find anything out?"

Quatre answered for me.  "Nothing specific.  He said he thought Zero would be used for human something or another before he stopped himself from finishing his sentence.  Duo?"

"Gimme a sec," he muttered, plopping himself down at his desk.  He pulled out a pen and scrawled another line in his notepad, set the pen down, stared at the paper for a few seconds, then picked the pen back up to draw a couple of lines and scratch a word out.  Then he looked up at the rest of us and answered our question.  "Well, it's unanimous.  The people that talked to him agree that Brisbois is an arrogant pig."

"Find out anything new?" Wufei asked wryly.

He shrugged.  "Usual suspects.  Has a thing against Microware, but only because he invested right before their stock bombed.  Thinks vegetarians are all new-age hippies that're just trying in vain to be trendy.  Said once that all geopolitical analysts are self-absorbed ninnies that refuse to share their secrets with any of their fellow analysts, and completely failed to see how exactly he'd just described himself.  Thinks he knows all sorts of things about intercolonial shipping lanes, but really doesn't."

"Somehow I doubt he took Zero to get revenge on Microware," Trowa drawled.  "Or vegetarians."

"That only leaves the analysts and shipping lanes," Wufei followed up sourly.  "Guess that was a fruitless exercise."

"Ah," Duo said, holding up a finger with an airy expression.  "But there was one more thing someone mentioned in an aside: a rant on genetics.  The guy didn't remember the details, though, just that it was weird.  The vibe I got was, maybe genetic superiority?  It fits with the whole human something theory, though."

"Genetic superiority," I repeated quietly, musing to myself.  "Who in their right mind supports such a thing in this day and age?"  One couldn't have superiority unless one had purity, and the notion of genetic purity had begun to fade before man had set up his first colony.  Since then, with the waiving of national borders... unless that was it.  "Could he be some sort of neo-nationalist?"

"Neo-nationalist?"  Wufei ran his eyes down the lists in front of him.  "We've got three groups known to run along those lines.  But they're for China, Brazil, and America."

"And Brisbois' roots are in France, and Luxembourg, I believe."  Damn.  There went a perfectly good idea.

"What sorts of things could Zero analyze regarding genetics?" Trowa asked me.

Another question Zero would have been good at answering, and I hadn't been keeping up with biological issues.  "The human genome has already been mapped to a reasonable degree.  There are still some fuzzy areas, but nothing in high demand by researchers.  There are some distributed projects that Zero might be useful for, regarding drug research, enzymes, catalysts, that sort of thing.  Gene therapy.  Running through the possibilities for binding sites and protein structures.  Zero would have to be completely reconfigured, though."

"Please don't tell me the bad guys just want to find the cure for cancer," Duo groaned dramatically.  "I don't know if I could bust guys like that."

"Let's pretend our guys are stupid," Trowa brought up, going back to Duo's old reminder.  "What are the genetic issues present today, regardless of whether or not Zero would be any good at analyzing them?"

"Reproductive issues," Quatre suggested quietly.  "Ex vitro children and the potential for tweaking them, selecting traits, eliminating defects."

That led me to another topic.  "Mutations.  Higher rates of mutations, deviations, or defects in the colony-born."

It went around the table to Wufei's corner.  "Superiority.  Mutations representing the next level of human evolution."

"Or a deviation from humanity," Trowa offered.  "It could go either way."  And neither of them pretty.

"Are you sure about the genetic superiority, Duo?" Quatre asked.  "Let's not wander down this road unless we're sure it leads somewhere.  It opens up far too many possibilities."

Duo pursed his lips and thought for a few seconds before he shrugged.  "Sure?  No, not at all.  The guy couldn't tell me much.  Hell, I know I probably would have tuned Brisbois out after the first few words, so I'm surprised we got as much as we did.  But I could ask him again now that we know it's significant."

He received a curt nod from Quatre.  "Do that.  For now, let's stick with our other leads.  Wufei, have you found anything other than three neo-nationalist groups?"

Wufei nodded similarly in response, but more in acknowledgment of the question than in answer.  "Mostly, we have our run of the mill insurgent groups.  The Preventers have done a decent job of putting down the more radical threats.  All together, there are about forty groups that we keep tabs on.  Eliminating the ones that wouldn't have the resources or conceivable cause to pull off this crime and use Zero, we end up with three likely suspects and five possibles.

"First off, we have the CFS, the Colonists for Secession."  He held up the proper file folder for us to look at.   "Leadership consists of a triumvirate, the only steady member being Anderson, Lindsay.  They've so far been a political force, but a number of acts of violence and vandalism are suspected to be associated with their group.  Their stance: that the ESUN should stay an Earth Sphere organization and let the colonies split off to found their own CSUN equivalent."

"The least they could do is find their own name," Duo muttered under his breath.

Either Wufei didn't hear the comment, or he chose to ignore it.  I would have wagered on the latter.  "Second, we have the American neo-nationalists.  Granted, Brisbois is unlikely to be concerned about their cause, but they could have lied, and they do have the resources.  Their stance is based on centuries of history -- of their nation being both powerful amongst the world leaders, and unwilling to give up that supremacy and autonomy.  They have numerous acts of sabotage racked up in their name against foreign interests.

"Third, we have one of the groups from the African continent.  The two largest are the MZA and the NALO.  They have no world politics; they're just interested in gaining sole control over the region and its resources.  Several major, bloody skirmishes have taken place on the border over the last four years."

"I can't see Brisbois working for any of those," Quatre said.  "They could have lied, yes, but they would have had to have something to back the lies.  The colonists and nationalists both have too narrow a goal, too specific to a particular group of people, to which Brisbois does not belong, and even if the African groups were able to disguise their profit-seeking as, say, returning territory to its rightful inhabitants, Brisbois' personality doesn't lend him to believing in causes that have nothing to do with him.  He wouldn't put himself on the line for simple morality.  He only thinks he's pursuing some lofty cause."

"He insists it's not about war and peace," Trowa brought up.  "If it's not some military group, then what else is left?   Political?"

"Zero can't affect politics," I responded, although it would have been an easy answer given Brisbois' occupation.  "It's people that determine the course of politics, regardless of where the people get their information."

"Using Zero as a political analyst would make people like Brisbois obsolete," Duo said.  "And if there's something he doesn't want, it's to be obsolete."

We went around the table, coming up with only more answers, and too few questions.

This piece of fiction is the intellectual property of the little turnip that could. The basis for this fic, i.e. Gundam Wing, Kyuuketsuki Miyu, et al., is the property of someone else. The author can be con tacted at jchew at This has been an entirely automated message.

last modified : 12/30/2005 14:41:38 PST