Effigy for the Blameless

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In Which Innocence is Lost...

I believed my father could do anything. Most kids do. I believed my father had the capacity to make everything right every time without fail. That’s what they’re supposed to do.

I wonder…what thoughts race through a father’s mind as he holds his child for the first time? A little girl…you wonder if you’ll ever truly be able to protect her from the evils of the world. A little boy…

Will he respect me? Will he wish to be like me? Am I a good enough example? Am I good enough at all?

I wonder what my father pondered as he held me for the first time. Jonathan Maverick, humanity’s greatest negotiator…

I wonder if he feared that day…the first day his son would ever see him fail…

****************

“My heart burns heavily in solidarity with your struggles, Maven Maverick. All life is valuable, though some through disdain and ire taint their worthiness. Truly the people of McCaffrey face great hardship.”

I knew then and there that the negotiations were not going to go well. That was not the tone of one who intended to offer their people as ancilla.

“Indeed, their situation is our own, as all life is precious and bound. Therefore it is with great prostration that I must beg intercessors of your people, Legate Anavara. Join your claws, your fangs with our own, that we might ascertain the the sanctity of said life.”

One might ponder where in these negotiations my father had the intention to offer anything of value to the Siveran Legate. For their culture, however, it would have been considered exceedingly rude to do so until all of the posturing and pleasantries were out of the way.

“…Maven Maverick…”

She was hesitating. That played over in my mind over and over and over again. She was hesitating…why? What little I knew of Legate Anavara told me she was a woman of unparalleled confidence…so chosen to negotiate with my father because she was his equal if not his better…

So why?

“Regrettably, our fangs must remain otherwise indisposed.”

My blood ran cold.

My father had one hell of a poker face; if Legate Anavara’s had shaken or concerned him in any way shape or form, he certainly didn’t let it show.

Tense silence carried on for a time, and I watched as the Legate turned her head away just so, a genuine sign of apology.

“Our people face hardship and ire as well, Maven Maverick. To divert resources from our own season of discontent could prove…disastrous.”

“I empathize with your hardship, Legate Anavara. However, there is a place where this rings mutually propitious. While our own fangs are far, far from our zone of ire, they are not so very far from your own. Grant us a small battalion, Legate Anavara, and you have my word on my honor that you will have twice that in Epheaf warriors.”

My father’s tone remained tight and controlled, however I knew him well enough to recognize that certain…stricture in his voice. He would not sweat; Jonathan Maverick does not sweat. He would not raise his voice; Jonathan Maverick was a portrait of self-control. He would not threaten or posture or curse; Jonathan Maverick was beyond such petty dealings lest the culture call for them.

He did, however, have a stricture to his voice that I had only heard once in my life before. And, the moment I heard it again…

I knew that McCaffrey was doomed too fall.

“The Epheaf are truly a blessed sight to behold, Maven Maverick…however…”

That same…damned…pause…

“Forgive me. I cannot help you.”

At this point, I spoke up, unable to control the rage like bitter piquant rising in an acidulous manner at the back of my throat.

“Can’t, or won’t?! Because where I stand, it sure as hell looks to me like you won’t!”

I tasted blood. My ears were ringing, the room was dark, my head was throbbing, and I tasted blood.

As I lay there on the ground trying to sort up from down, it took me several moments to realize my father had punched me in the mouth.

“Restrain yourself, Adherent, and offer mea culpa unto Legate Anavara. You speak out of turn, and with the grace of one more foolish than a child. Prostrate yourself, and make your repentance known.”

My father stood over me, grey eyes blazing as though they were formed of liquid metal still boiling within the inferno. There was a growl to his deep, regal voice, and his lips curled his entire dark face back in a sneer of disgust. Not a single emerald hair on his head, coaxed back in an otherwise charming ponytail, was misplaced. If the blow hurt his hand even a fraction as much as it should have hurt me, his face did not betray such infirmaries.

Should have…

He pulled his punch. There was no mistaking his disappointment at my lack of discretion, but he pulled his punch in the end. This was as much a show for the Legate, as the Siveran do not suffer asperity lightly, as it was a teaching moment.

I bowed my head, my own looser ponytail an absolute mess, and slowly came to rest on my knees. I lowered my head until my face was pressed into the floor, and spread my arms out evenly in submission.

“I am beneath thee, Legate, such that I may not utter your name. I am made low and have not the right to even consider asking her grace for forgiveness. Indeed, please deign to allow me to carry this shame. I shall do so unto the grave, on my word.”

Legate Anavara was staring at me, I could feel it. Yet, when she spoke…

“Rise, son of Jonathan Maverick.”

My eyes went wide.

“Muh, my lady?!”

“Rise, Jacob Maverick. There is no debt to be repaid.”

I felt as though moving through tar, incapable of comprehending what was occurring before me. She knew my name…she knew who I was…

She spoke to me as though I were a dear nephew come to visit after a very long time.

My father sighed.

“I implore you, Legate Anavara, please reconsider. We—”

“Jonathan Maverick, you have my respect and my sorrows, but you may not have our fangs. True, the H.U.F. are dear allies to our people, however…to ally ourselves in your cause in this instance is an impossibility. I cannot, I will not, render reprieve in the midst of your flames.”

I stared hatefully into Legate Anavara’s eyes…

They looked so…bloody…sad.

“…Is there nothing we can offer you? Nothing at all?” my father made his final plea.

“…”

Legate Anavara rose and approached my father. She leaned forward, crouching just so, and placed her lips at his cheek. Slowly she rose, and turned her back upon him.

“You have my regrets. Go with God.”

“…And you also. Come, Jacob. We must away.”

“What? No! NO! THAT’S BULL DAD! THEY’RE GONNA DIE, EVERYONE ON MCCAFFREY IS GONNA DIE!! DON’T YOU CARE? DO YOU EVEN GIVE A DAMN!?”

“JACOB!”

I flinched. My father never, ever rose his voice unless a negotiation required it.

“…”

I turned and poured all of my malice and loathing into my scorching, searing gaze and drowned Anavara in my rancor.

“…To hell with you then, Legate. I hope…I hope… I hope to God you miscarry.”

I turned and stormed off, a wrathful stride that became a blinding run of rage.

My father roared my name. Legate Anavara watched me in silence. I didn’t bother looking back.

The rest of the way from our rapid transport to our ship my father didn’t say a single word to me. That night, McCaffrey would fall, and seven thousand four hundred fifty two human lives would be lost, in addition to the vast majority of the Epheas on site.

No, my father didn’t say a word that entire ride back, and not a single word the rest of the way to the H.U.F. headquarters on Eros.

When he was alone…he did, however yell. He did, however, scream. He did, however cry. And that night…

That night, my father, the great Jonathan Maverick fell into a bottle…

And he never did climb his way back out.

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