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Choice and Consequence

By Quillblade

 

The balcony was some sixteen feet high up, and looked down at a wide courtyard, like those of old medieval times, surrounded by a stone -- or rather, concrete -- wall dappled with ivy. There was a small, neat garden running around the inside of this wall, and an arched doorway leading out onto the street -- but the door itself was steel, and futuristic rather than dark ages. On the grassy courtyard below, a row of armored police officers stood to military-like attention, effectively creating a barrier between three young, chained up men, and a group of reporters and journalists waiting ahead of them. From the landing, the prisoners were invisible.

Jedar took one look through the window at the media and promptly turned to flee. Unfortunately, his escape was marred by the only slightly shorter duck standing directly behind him, who stopped him with one arm and a teasing but friendly grin. "Come on, Jedar, the public doesn't bite."

"Maybe not for you, Mr. President, but you haven't spent most of your life trying to hide from their eye."

A flicker of what might have been a pained expression crossed over Canard's face, at this reminder of his friend's previous occupation. "No, you're right, I haven't. If anything, I've tried to get into it." He grinned a little ruefully. "I sure am now."

Taking another careful peek out the window at the waiting press below, Jedar muttered, "So am I, and I don't like it one bit."

It was not the first ever press "meeting" of the new Puckworld Government, but it was the first which saw Jedar in attendance. It was called for some obscure reason he had totally ignored, concentrating more on the horrifying prospects of having to appear in public -- moreover, in respectable politician-wear, something he never went in for otherwise. Actually, he'd managed to get away with wearing a white shirt, a black evening coat and slacks; he made his point quite clearly that the only suit he'd ever wear would be the one he wore to the funeral of the man who'd tried to fit him in it. The hilt of his deactivated saber was tucked into an inside pocket of his jacket -- he always kept it at hand, although of late he'd not used it very much.

He'd been part of the Puckworld Authority for a couple of months now, but so far managed to play truant through any public appearances. In other words, he never went out, except at night when he could slip past security and get a breath of the not-quite-fresh-but-less-stuffy air of the world outside in duCaine Metropolis. Therefore, he was referred to in the media as the mysterious Fifth Man (in some articles speculated to be a woman!) and the press had turned up as much to hear what Canard had to say, as to finally photograph him. This was the main reason Jedar didn't want to go out there -- he was photo-shy; another old habit which died very hard.

Jedar looked around morosely as Canard walked past him toward the other three members of the Authority -- military men, all of whom Jedar had varying degrees of dislike for. General McMallard was tall and imposing, something, Canard had once joked, that must have been a prerequisite for making the rank of General. His bright red hair, graying slightly at the sides, was the only part of him that revealed his advancing years. This man Jedar actually held a grudging respect for; he had, after all, been the mastermind behind many a successful raid against the Saurians -- it was fitting that he'd be one of those in charge of rebuilding Puckworld. The others... well... Jedar's opinion of them wasn't very high. Bill Rosy lounged back against the wall, constantly glancing at his watch. That was the worst thing about him, he was obsessed with being efficient, punctual, and preferably running either on schedule or ahead of it. It might have been fine if Jedar wasn't so often the victim of Rosy's other worst attribute, his incredibly scalding tongue, for delaying him by seconds or minutes at a time. Unlike the last man, he had a volatile temper and little restraint on it. Jedar didn't turn his head but glanced sideways. 'The last man' was standing with his back to the rest, apparently studying a painting although it was more likely he was studying everyone in the room by the reflections in the glass.

Just to test this, Jedar pulled a face at him while no one else was looking. Crimson Pintail looked around with a very slight frown. "Careful, Jedar, or the wind might change and you'll be stuck looking like that." He paused. "On second thought, it might actually do your face some good, considering what it looks like now."

"Aha, right, this coming from the man with half--" 'Half his face missing', Jedar started to say, but by this stage Canard had laid a hand on his shoulder with a warning expression.

There was a tense silence for a few seconds; Crimson's hand jerked once, as though he was trying to fight the automatic movement of reaching up to touch the hideous scar, and then folded into a fist as he swung around to face the wall again. That was really stupid, Jedar, he told himself. The man's crazed as a bat-hound for sure, but you don't want to get in his bad books... or at least any more so than you are already.

Canard's hand left his shoulder. "It's time," he said quietly. The three soldiers nodded, but Jedar fought back an urge to run for it. I'll have to go out there sometime, he thought fiercely, mentally slapping himself across the face, this overreacting is childish as well as cowardly. For a second time Canard's hand touched his shoulder, although this time it was accompanied by an encouraging grin. "Come on, friend, we need you on this."

"They don't," Jedar hissed, hiking a thumb at the other three, already making their way out onto the landing. He heard the ominous rustling of notebook papers, and the clicking of cameras. "If you'd told me making a public appearance at least once a month was going to be an obligation I'd have turned you down flat!"

"Don't be so antisocial," Canard chuckled, walking out onto the balcony. Jedar grimaced, and then followed him.

The response was immediate. Not a second after his arrival the number of clicks increased ten-fold: snap, snap, snap snap snap snap... Jedar really would have turned to run at that point, but he just knew that someone -- who, he wasn't sure because he couldn't very well turn to look -- had stepped in to effectively block his path. Grin and bear it, he thought dryly. He might not be able to manage the grin, but anyway...

Canard raised his hands for silence. The cameras shut up immediately.

"Eight months and two weeks ago, Puckworld was a balanced planet. We had our peace, aye, and we had our wars. Our dark and our light sides. But with the Saurians came an even darker darkness that we could not fight away, that we could not stop, and it consumed us. We became slaves, the Saurians our masters." Here Canard paused, with a faintly bitter smile. "But I'm telling you all old news. We all know what happened. Not one of us was untouched. Very, very few of us got by without any personal tragedies. However the Saurians are gone, now, and to those who gave their lives that it might be so we will forever remember, in legend and in history. The Saurians are gone... but their darkness is not!"

His words echoed harshly from the walls. "The Saurians are gone," he repeated, "but they left behind a scar that will not vanish so quickly. We grieve for those who did not survive -- friends, neighbours, loved ones. We grieve for our lives, shattered in the events of a single day. We grieve for our planet, for the skies that are not yet cleared of the red polluted clouds. But we can not grieve forever. Those who gave their lives so that Puckworld may be free can not die in vain. I remember one man, my uncle and a good friend, who -- in his last breath on this plane -- said to me, 'Don't cry, Canard. Live.'

"And live I shall. I pledged my years ahead not just to making Puckworld what it once was, but to making it even more. We should not grieve, it is for us -- the living -- to continue the unfinished work which they who fought for freedom have begun. It is for us, here and elsewhere, to take on the great task ahead of us, that from the honored dead we take an increased devotion to the cause for which they gave their lives -- that we here resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this world, under the eyes of Drake duCaine, shall have a new birth of freedom. And that the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from Puckworld."

A burst of cheering arose from the crowd, and the flash photography nearly blinded the small group on the balcony. Doing his best not to squint, Jedar leant over toward Canard. "Nice speech," he commented.

"Thank you," Canard whispered out of the side of his beak. "I made most of it up on the spot. It just seemed the right way to say what I had to say."

...Snap snap snap snap...

"Great, can I go now?"

"I haven't finished yet..." Canard raised his hands once more, and the reporters about to plough in with questions halted. Stifling a sigh, Jedar waited to hear the rest. "I mentioned before a darkness, that which the Saurians left behind. It has not gone. And there is a fact that many have overlooked -- Dragaunus was not the first Overlord, and he is likely not the last. He has been defeated, but as long as there are Saurians alive in dimensional limbo, there is a risk that they may come again. But!" As whisperings started down below, Canard's voice grew louder, and the murmurs ceased. "If they do come again, we shall be prepared. Puckworld will not be taken unawares again. The militaries of land, water, and space were poorly managed -- no offence meant, General," he added with a sidelong grin at the man in question, who smiled back and shook his head. "We had grown lazy in our luxury and forgotten the old tales, fact was relegated to myth -- the Saurians, Drake duCaine and his mask. And this was why the invaders conquered us. We were unprepared. I will not let Puckworld be driven into slavery again, whether it is in my lifetime, or a hundred lifetimes after mine."

It was at about this time that Jedar started zoning out. Canard's voice became a murmur in the back of his mind -- not because he was uninterested in what his friend had to say, but because what his friend had said was making him think. He'd never been a believer in Drake duCaine... well. That wasn't quite true. What he didn't believe were all the legends that make him look like a godly figure, complete with superavian powers. But what bugged him -- or rather, made him think -- was what Canard said about everything being relegated to myths. Would they all, eventually, be only remembered in exaggerated stories? It was an interesting thought...

"...and so those who break the law must answer to the law, whoever they may be."

Jedar blinked, quickly racing back to the present. He watched in confusion as a trio of youths, including one who looked barely fifteen years old, were trooped out into the centre of the courtyard. He hadn't noticed them earlier, but now he did it was with a sinking feeling of recognition. All three he'd seen before -- a long time before, it seemed now -- all three were Juniors or Presabers in the Brotherhood of the Blade. And all three were chained. Canard, what are you doing?

Canard was shaking his head slowly. "Training to steal," he said. "There are those out there who will take a child from the streets and give him all the skills to make him more than your average pickpocket. Those who make innocents into burglars, thieves. We do not need these people in our society."

Damn it, Canard... they're kids!

But Canard was deliberately avoiding his gaze. "So we, the five of us, have decided on a stronger means of policing this city, and all those beyond."

He opened his mouth to say 'I didn't decide a thing!' but a boot connected with his ankle -- not too hard, just enough to stop him from speaking. "You signed the commission sheet last week, Jedar," Crimson whispered. "Along with all those other papers I dumped you with."

Jedar recalled a huge number of things which needed his signature, and which he hadn't bothered to scan properly because there was just so much to read. "I'd never have signed it willingly."

"I know."

"You tricked me!"

"Don't be so melodramatic, Jedar, and keep your voice down. We're supposed to be the backbone and brains of a crumbled society."

"You're a corrupt son of a bitch..." Crimson's boot hit his ankle again, harder this time, and Jedar battled to keep a straight face and not turn around to hit the guy. As much as he disliked Crimson -- he had a point. A very little one at the most, but a point. But... this wasn't right!

"...and this new police shall be known as the Enforcers. And today we will send out a warning to all thieves, whatever their age may be, whoever they might be in society, that from now on, they are to stop all theft, all pickpocketing and crime. Or face the penalty for it."

The 'Enforcers' raised their guns.

"Wait!" Vaguely, Jedar wondered who had said that, at least until he realised that he was standing in the courtyard with his saber drawn. Oh, it was me. "I'll spit and roast the first one of you who so much as twitches a finger."

"Jedar!" Canard's shocked cry made him glance up. "What in the name of duCaine are you doing?"

"They're just kids! They shouldn't have to die. Certainly not for surviving."

"And what are we supposed to do to them instead? Prison sentance? We haven't a working prison yet."

...click click clickclickclickclick...

He swung his sword around to the journalists and cameraducks. "No cameras, please." They were dropped hurriedly onto the ground, and everyone started frantically taking written notes instead. "Thanks. That noise has been getting on my nerves all evening."

Back to the others. "Community service, Canard. That boy there isn't even old enough to vote yet, why should we give him the death penalty?

"He'll do it again, Jedar, you know that. Won't you come back inside where we can discuss this privately?"

"If it means leaving the kids with your pack of gunmen there, no way."

Canard's expression was still impassive, but his eyes were dark. "I'm President, Jedar. They won't be killed. You've swayed this argument." Jedar didn't like the tone of his voice on the word 'this'... it implied that there were going to be more. "Enforcers... dismissed. Captain Rodengerry?" he called to the single true policeman in the group. "Take the three to a holding cell. Give them a month of community service, road repair."

"And after the month let them go," Jedar finished for him, already heading for the doors. He glanced back for a moment and caught the gazes of the three kids. One actually managed a small smile at him.

*****

"How could you do that?!" Canard yelled at him. "I've been carefully building this up for a few weeks now, you knew about it, dammit, you could have lodged a complaint and I'd have heard it! I could have done something long before, but you had to wait to have us all look like undecided fools!"

"I never even heard about it until now!"

"You signed the damn papers!"

Jedar stabbed a finger at Crimson. "He dumped it on me with about four hundred others, it was a mistake but I didn't read them all! I swear I never knew until today!"

Clenching his fists, Canard started to calm down. He cast a venomous glance at Crimson -- who quickly departed the room, along with the other two government heads -- and then relaxed with a grunt. "It's too late now, Jedar. Even if I wanted to, I couldn't just withdraw everything I'd said out there. It's impossible."

"No it's not."

"You don't know my position here..."

"You're right, I don't. Apparently, I don't know my position here, either." He sighed. "Canard, I haven't the time to write a full, official resignation, but you have it in spirit."

Canard stared at him blankly. "What?"

"I resign. I quit my post."

"You can't do that!"

"Watch me," Jedar said, walking toward the exit.

"Step out there and you'll be a wanted man for the rest of your days."

Jedar stopped, his hand on the door. He studied his old friend: the younger man looked the same as ever, except that his eyes were dark -- pleading -- angry -- regretful. But there was something else in them that he hadn't noticed before. An inavian kind of hatred. Something evil that made him shiver. "Sorry, Canard," he said. "But I'm already a wanted man."

The door closed very quietly behind him, and Canard was left standing motionless in the middle of the room.

 

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