Author: Jordanna Morgan (email@example.com)
Archive Rights: Please request the author’s consent.
Characters: Philip, and a lizard of my own—his adjutant, Victor.
Summary: Philip measures the price of human life.
Disclaimer: Philip and the premise of V don’t belong to me; I’m simply playing with them. Victor is mine, though.
Notes: Way back in 1996-1997, before I had internet access, I actually wrote several V fanfiction stories for my own amusement. I still had a lot to learn as a writer, and most of those stories probably wouldn’t stand up all that well to rewriting. However, this was one scene I always did want to rework as a stand-alone character piece—and when my friend Wabbitseason asked for fifth column fiction for the Fandom Stocking exchange on LiveJournal, I finally had a good motivation to do it.
Incidentally, I have a vague recollection that this scene was first inspired by the movie Schindler’s List. Since the V series itself shamelessly pillaged plots and scenes from other films such as Casablanca, I feel no guilt about doing a little borrowing of my own. *g*
The brooch was a bit more than two inches long, a gracefully curved bar of intricate filigree. Crafted of a metal not native to Earth, its sheen was neither silver or gold, but something in between; on its back, the identifying mark of one of Sirius IV’s most gifted artisans was etched beneath the clasp. Set in the heart of its design was a fiery red-orange stone, an interplanetary cousin of the ruby, that sparkled radiantly even under the cold whiteness of artificial light.
The piece of jewelry was an artwork and an heirloom. Ironically, it would now be all but worthless on the slowly dying world of its origin, but on this planet it was still a treasure of great value…
And in a few hours, it would buy the life of a human being.
Philip, the Inspector General of the Visitor Fleet, gazed thoughtfully across his steepled fingertips at the glittering bauble on his desk. At the moment it still belonged to him, a fragment of a small inheritance he had carried with him from the Homeworld. It was not sentimental, exactly, but… symbolic. Tradition and family honor were a lifeblood to him, one of the few foundations of his life that had not significantly shifted since his arrival on Earth.
Even so, for the purpose that had swept him up in its tumultuous currents, that lifeblood was no more exempt from being shed than the blood in his own veins. It was a simple process, one he had already enacted several times.
Captive humans, once positively identified, might be transferred to any of several locations. Known resistance operatives would be delivered to the mother ship for interrogation or conversion, scientists and genetically interesting test subjects to Visitor laboratories, ordinary innocents to work camps—or food processing facilities. With so many prisoners moving in so many directions, it was easy enough for the commandant of the central detention center to make one or two of them disappear, now and then.
That commandant was not a fifth columnist… but he was quite willing to be bribed.
Rising thoughtfully from his desk, Philip crossed to the far wall of his quarters. He keyed a password into the access panel of his wall safe, and its door slid open, a few of its contents glinting softly as they caught the light.
The remaining companions to the brooch were here: necklaces, bracelets, crest ornaments, a too-rapidly dwindling stash of precious metals and polished stones. A few of them were valuable enough to buy more than just one life. Philip thrust his hand into the safe, lifting out a handful of the alien antiquities, and studied them in the harsh light of his spartan white room.
In his hand he might have held the lives of half a dozen innocent women and children, waiting at that moment to die… but no. This ransom was to be jealously preserved, spared for the purchase of dusty scientists and duplicitous statesmen, because they were more useful pieces on the chessboard of interspecies conflict.
That was the bitterest part of it.
With sudden disgust, Philip dumped the handful of family jewels into the safe, and strode back to his desk to sink broodingly into his chair. He sighed heavily and rested his head on his hand, massaging his crest through his mask of artificial human flesh.
Was there not an Earth legend about a man who sold his birthright to his brother for a bowl of food? Philip smiled humorlessly: he still wasn’t sure whether he had bargained any more wisely. The price he paid was far more than his own family legacy. Each time he helped free a human who was valuable to the resistance, he was potentially trading away the lives of an untold number of his people—perhaps even the very future of his race. The captured scientist whose life was about to be redeemed by the brooch might someday be the one to find the ultimate weapon; the one to sweep the Visitors from the face of the Earth forever.
Philip didn’t even have a clear answer for why he was willing to take that risk. His brother might have gone native on this world, made it his home and ultimately died for it, but he felt no such bond with the humans. His was a simple conviction that to prey on other intelligent beings was wrong—and although strange and primitive, humans were certainly intelligent. For his people to harm those volatile but spirited creatures was to degrade their own honor as a race. Furthermore, it was a tragic waste of life and time and effort. They once could have shared peacefully in the fertile riches of Earth, when the humans first welcomed them with breathless awe and innocent generosity. There would have been no need for the campaign of deception and terror that had led to so much spilled blood, both red and green.
It was not only the humans who had been taken in by that deception. In the beginning, years ago, the Sirian people were told by their leaders that the great fleet they must build was truly destined for a mission of goodwill; that they would reach out across the stars to their neighbors, in search of mutual cooperation and aid. They learned the truth just as slowly and painfully as the humans had, manipulated all the while by those in power. By the time the average Sirian knew what “resources” the fleet was on Earth to collect, the damage was already done. They had been taught to believe that these mammals were a savage, inferior race—a propaganda lie cleverly interwoven with the earliest violent actions of the resistance. On the Homeworld, they saw only the newsfeeds of slain shock troopers, and learned to hate.
Philip himself had been misled—perhaps even more deeply than most, his grief for his murdered brother twisted into a thirst for revenge. To be deceived by his own superiors was as deep a wound to his honor as any other. Perhaps his own gullibility was what some part of him sought to atone for…
Or perhaps it was only that his vendetta had turned to the true architects of Martin’s death.
He was frightened by that thought. Frightened of blurring the delicate line between those who killed, and those who merely served the killers; frightened that his bitterness and blame might extend beyond the few who deserved it, and make him callous to the needless deaths of other Visitors who were simply ignorant and mistaken.
For now, at least, he trusted his instincts—even if he was not always sure why. He knew Martin’s blood was on the hands of Diana, and at the proper time, he would deliver her reckoning. As for the rest… he could only rely on his best judgment, and that of a few reasonably clever and well-meaning humans like Mike Donovan, who sincerely wished as much as he did to spare suffering on both sides.
Yet if the final, unequivocal choice was someday to be set before him… The survival of the human species, or his own…
At the sound of his door chime, Philip quickly raised his head and swept the brooch off his desk. He was too obsessively cautious to let it be seen there if his caller was Diana or Lydia, come to needle him and spy upon him in their silkenly venomous ways.
To his relief, the door opened instead upon the one other man whose counsel he trusted implicitly: Lieutenant Victor, his friend from youth, now his adjutant and faithful co-conspirator.
Victor was younger than Philip, still blessedly less hardened by loss and the burdens of command—and like Martin, he was more affected by the inexplicable charms of Earth and its inhabitants. He understood the risks of their shadow rebellion just as deeply, but he accepted them with far greater ease, and was seemingly untroubled by the doubts and uncertainties that haunted Philip. His determined optimism was a splendidly maddening salvation, constantly pulling his commander back from the edge of utter despair.
As far as Philip could see, Victor’s only flaw was a flippant sense of humor—lately warped even further by the often bizarre influence of human culture.
“We got word from the commandant at the detention center.” On the surface, Victor’s demeanor was businesslike, but there was a trace of the gentler quality that came into his tone and expression when they spoke privately of their secret work. In this they were no longer officers of the fleet, and the restraints of rank did not stand between them. “He’s ready to shuffle Doctor Slovinsky out of circulation as soon as he gets his payoff.”
“Then let’s not keep him waiting.” Philip stood up, holding out his hand across the desk. The ransom brooch lay in his open palm.
“The blood money, as the humans say.”
Victor’s brow twitched, his crest quivering beneath his mask of sharp, youthful human features, and his gaze dropped to the brooch. For a long moment he stared down at it; but as he reached out at last to take the ornament from Philip’s hand, his uncharacteristically grave green eyes met Philip’s weary blue ones, and the Inspector saw an understanding there that he almost regretted. Victor knew too well the torn will that was once more in conflict within his friend.
“Don’t think that way, Philip. It isn’t selling out. It’s buying a stake in this planet’s future… because our future is here, too. I think you know that.”
“Hmm.” With an empty smile, Philip turned away slightly and folded his arms, resting his hip against the edge of the desk. “What they call the ‘American Dream’, I suppose—the nine-to-five job and the picket fence. Even if there were to be peace one day… I can see no place for myself in that, Vic.”
The younger Visitor’s answer was so quiet and subdued that Philip almost failed to hear it.
“It was good enough for Martin.”
Philip looked up sharply. Caught in that hard, startled gaze, Victor hesitated for a moment; he swallowed hard, and then slowly tucked away the brooch in a hidden pocket beneath the breastplate of his uniform.
“I’ll… see this gets delivered.”
Any words in response could only have caused regret. Philip simply inclined his head, and watched as Victor somewhat uncomfortably turned and hurried out of his quarters.
For a few minutes, Philip was adrift in blank thoughts and unsettled feelings. There was no anger; Victor merely spoke the strange truth about what Martin had become—what he had found—on this world. Philip knew that more clearly than Victor ever could. And even if it was possible to be angry at his young friend, the feeling would have been lost in the emptiness of the space inside him, the place that had been hollow since Martin’s death. Duty and honor could not fill that void. Not even the complex and uncertain personal honor of obedience to his conscience—the force that now compelled his every thought and action, even when he felt there was nothing left to fight for.
Slowly he rose and moved across the room, to the rear wall that was formed by the ship’s outer bulkhead. His quarters were among the few that offered the luxury of a small exterior viewport. He touched a control button, and as the opaque screen of its daytime sunshield slid back, the lights of southern California glittered up at him from the darkness like stars.
They were the lights of homes, and of travelers hurrying back to those homes to beat the curfew. Each spark in the night was the reflection of a life, with all its dreams and hopes and fears; each one unique, and fragile, and so easily snuffed out. Their life was alien to him, but perhaps that wasn’t truly so important, after all.
It was still a warmer light than the polished sheen of cold stones.
© 2009 Jordanna Morgan - send feedback