Episode Six- The West Pier- Chapter Ten

(Due to an extra busy schedule tomorrow.  This week’s post will be published today.)

Chapter Ten

The West Pier staff, each and every one of them, are stationed around the rectangular table of the main briefing room with Ladon Radim taking up Woolsey’s usual spot at the head of the table with his back to the fan of doors behind him. Everyone’s prepped for near immediate confirmation of everything Radim says. Laptops opened and waiting, a few of them tapped into the Ancient database and the Expedition’s own private database of information gathered during missions. Rob and Brad lean casually back in their seats, ready to observe the proceedings. Joe, Paul, and Carl either sitting up in their chairs or leaning forward with their arms on the table top and eager to begin their roles as the predominant questioners with the occasional question coming from Marty whenever he might be able to pull himself away from his computer screen. He, Peter, and Allan are going to be confirming everything Radim says on their laptops. And to top off the guest list, three armed Marines are stationed at the fan-doors behind the Genii leader. It’s game time and the savvy Genii leader knows it. This will be entirely different from his interrogation at Woolsey’s hands, there won’t be any sign of politicking here.

“Do note you still have an option here, easy or hard,” Chief of Staff Robert C. Cooper informs him, “We are the easy. The armed marines behind you are just the beginnings of hard.”

Ladon Radim nods. He understands completely, he’s done it before himself. And he makes a mental note that perhaps Atlantis’ Mister Woolsey is more like himself than he’d originally thought if these are the men he takes advice from and surrounds himself with, his personal staff. Ladon wonders if these men have been the advisers to Atlantis’ leadership all along and the only thing holding the Lanteans back from coming to the same potential that Ladon’s own trusted advisers had when the coup happened was waiting for a leader like Ladon that would go where they were directing as well as follow the man’s leadership for the greater good of their people. Doctor Weir was an exceptional leader and guided the Lanteans well during her term, but now he wonders if she could have been far more formidable than anyone he’s ever met before. Had she lacked ambition? Is this Woolsey far more formidable than anyone he’s ever met before? Had he surpassed the beautiful and capable Colonel Carter due to his ambition?

Gate Teams Director Carl Binder begins, “What do you know about the remnants of Commander Kolya’s group?”

Ladon begins as well, “After the Commander died, his favorite and second-in-command, Toran, took control. Toran’s leadership was fleeting as Colonel Sheppard killed him on Larris. Since then the group’s current leadership has been continuously fluctuating as Toran had not had time to choose a second in the event of his untimely passing.”

“How unfortunate. Who’s currently up to bat then?” Joe Mallozzi goes second.

Radim lets the unfamiliar Earth expression pass over his head while getting its gist all the same, “One of the five of Kolya’s remaining inner circle.”

It’s another ‘Oh great’ moment, but nobody lets it show. Ladon Radim notices the subtle shifts in their breathing patterns though, the increased rising and falling of their breaths as well as the depth of those breaths. Good, he’s both frustrated and disturbed Mister Woolsey’s senior staff. It had been the reaction of his own committee of advisers when they’d discovered this detail in the wake of learning about Toran’s death.

One rogue Genii in the leadership of many others was a simple matter. They had staged one coup, it would be simple to stage another. Yet, with Toran’s death, there had arisen five rogue leaders over many other rogue Genii. And five coups that would have to be simultaneous would be improbable to achieve. Not impossible, but so incredibly improbable, the Genii just do not have the armaments and reach to pull it off. Then there’s also the little matter of the fact that that would shed direct light on how close the Genii are to an all out civil war and no one needs to know about that. Ever. If Ladon Radim lost that much control of the private affairs of the Genii people, the rogues wouldn’t have to kill him, he’d kill himself. He would take the honorable path that Cowen had been convinced was not the one for himself. Cowen had learned the hard lesson that when the people call for you to step down, you must step down or the people will make sure you step down by any means possible. And your own men will lead the charge. As the matter currently stands, it appears to any outsiders that the Genii government is just having a little pest issue. If any greater attention were shown to the strength and fortitude of Kolya’s forces and how well they’ve been supplying themselves, there are even growing rumors that let alone had the daunting Commander found another ZPM as the Lanteans called the glowing Ancient devices, but that Kolya also may have discovered an Ancient vessel that required such a device to operate it, then it would be known that the Genii are suffering from a plague that has not weakened or diminished in any way in three years but in fact may have grown. He cannot allow that realization to happen to anyone beyond the confines of their own world. He will not.

“Which one is the one you think would do this,” Paul Mullie asks.

“Any of them,” Radim answers, gesturing casually.

Rob’s dark eyes slip to the marines. One steps forward. Ladon goes into survival mode.

“I am telling you the truth. Acastus Kolya was one of our people’s best military leaders both in civil disturbances as well as against the Wraith. The knowledge and expertise he passed onto all those he taught as well as his personal charisma was and is considerable even in death. Any of these men he left behind, men he was incredibly close with, could pull off an attack of this magnitude flawlessly. They would not be one of Acastus Kolya’s men let alone members of his inner circle if they could not.”

Well at least that’s believable, Rob looks at the marine again, gives a slight nod, and the soldier backs back up into his former position. He returns his eyes to Ladon and the briefing goes on.

“Start with the most likely one,” Joe tells the Genii leader.

“That would actually be three of them,” he’d thought that might get their attentions, “Dainian, Taryi, and Devarik. All three have the technical and computer skills to carry out this attack as well as the ambition.” Ladon’s eyes scan each man very carefully for subconscious signs of that same ambition. After all, Ladon had not come to power alone, his committee of advisers came with him.

Paul has the follow-up, “Do you know any of them personally?”

“Yes. I underwent training under Commander Kolya’s tutelage with all the three of these men.” Believing it to be for the greater good at this table, reluctantly Ladon adds, “They were among the first to side with him after I took power.”

The covert mood in the room changes. Ladon thought it would when he let that piece of personal information out. It must be salivating to know that some of his own personal friends had sided against him when he needed them by him the most.

“So which one of your former classmates hates you the most,” Joe asks and fights the smile that wants to burst out on his face.

However, Ladon Radim is the one to start smiling instead. Calm and cool and collected. He thought that question, perhaps not that wording, would come next. “They were among the first to side with him after I took power,” Radim repeats.

Carl sighs and rubs the bridge of his nose before moving the questioning on, “Start with Dainian then.”

“Is very spiritual and believes that the Ancestors will judge his actions, not his fellow man,” Radim doesn’t miss a beat.

Martin Gero frowns, “So religious fanatic, it is.” He types that into his computer.

“Did you think that the Genii are without faith?”

The room freezes uncomfortably. Young Gero stares at Radim. Marty’s eyes flit around the room to the faces of his seven bosses around the room. Then his eyes return to the Genii leader’s eerily patient countenance, “Well, uh, well, actually, yeah, I did think that.”

And who could blame him? The Athosians, until recently, and almost everyone else in the Pegasus Galaxy’s reverence for the Ancients has always been blatant, as obvious and open as a Catholic wearing a big shiny cross. But the Genii. They’ve never been so explicit about whatever religion or religions they hold dear or even if they have any faiths at all let alone that it might be something connected to the Ancients. Although now that the matter’s come up, Marty can’t help but realize if it’s not revering the Ancients, then who would the Genii pray to? Sure as hell not the Wraith. That’s even more obvious than a big shiny cross.

Ladon smiles ingratiatingly and teaches the Lanteans something about Genii faith, “Dain was one of our religious leaders before joining the Commander. Young, yes, but very powerful in swaying people to his arguments. His orations upon what the Ancients had taught our people in the past and what they taught us by leaving our fates to the hands of ourselves as well as those of the Wraith have always been very riveting.” For a moment Ladon’s vision loses focus and drifts into the past. To a time when he sat beside Cowen instead of in his place, to a time when Ladon Radim wore the clothes of a simple farmer and sat on a bench in a simple single-roomed cottage next to the leader of his people and listened to a man as young as himself with dark hair, dark eyes, and pale skin wearing likewise simple clothes and delivering a sermon about the need to take power of their fates into their own hands. A sermon about how the Ancients did the Genii and the people of their galaxy a service by leaving so that they may learn to defend themselves against the Wraith and not rely upon the Ancients to be their saviors but rely upon themselves to be their own saviors…

“He was your priest, wasn’t he,” Marty suddenly asks.

Ladon lowers his eyes to the table for a moment. Normally he wouldn’t actually show that he’s weighing the price he’ll pay for revealing more personal information to other people, not even his own advisers ever saw him do this. Although there is something to be said about the threat of the marines he feels behind him, it’s the threat he knows he faces from public scrutiny if he cannot bring the menace of Acastus’s remaining men continuing to roam free and commit crimes that could bring down humans more than Wraith that presses the issue more assertively for him. His pale blue eyes come up to meet the youngest of the Earth men seated before him, “He was for a time,” Ladon admits, “Before I took control.”

He leaves out that the man was also his personal confidant and confessor. Ladon remembers going to Dain’s quarters in the bunker, his friend letting him in and without word but at the mere sight of Ladon, immediately taking a seat and waiting patiently for Ladon to work up the emotional strength to speak. Eventually Ladon did, kneeling beside the man’s chair. Dain put a hand on his shoulder and Ladon began talking about all of the issues he was having with the planned coup against Cowen. By the end of that fretful night, Ladon had walked out of his friend’s quarters confident in the belief that to remove Cowen from power was the right course of action… and by the end of the next night, after Cowen had been dismissed, Dainian would no longer talk to or see Ladon. Theirs is a bond that has ended up biting him in the ass and a mistake that he will never make again. Ladon won’t even tell his sister Dahlia anything anymore. He kept telling himself that it was for her safety as much his, but he knew better. He knew it was because of Dain…

“How popular was he with your people?”

“He is still the most popular of our priests, as you call them. We call them clerics.”

Martin makes another note and the entire time he’s typing his eyes are as large as teacup saucers. First to learn that the Genii are religious. And then to realize that one of their most dearest priests—clerics still maintains such a sway over the faithful even in a sort of exile with the other rogue Genii…  Wow. This isn’t just a new ball game, it’s a whole new sport. And if the situation weren’t so dire to three teams of their own people, it’d be pretty damn interesting to watch or at least follow up on. Seriously, bucket of popcorn, a soda the size of his head, and a pack of Goobers. Screw one of Colonel Sheppard’s football games on DVD.

Radim returns his eyes to the wider assembly again. His conversation transitioning back from the theological as well as personal aside, “Taryi is…  I have known him the longest of the five, he is the most charismatic of the three. He can pull anyone to his side no matter the discussion.”

“He didn’t pull you,” Paul points out.

“I didn’t pull him,” Radim smiles that smile again.

“Was he a cleric as well,” Marty asks with barely restrained excitement, his youthful unprofessionalism showing through. His fingers poised over his slim keyboard in eager anticipation of the response…

“No, he was my best friend since childhood. More than a cleric. A brother that was never born to my family.” Radim’s gaze goes distant as his eyes lower slightly to the table top at its far other edge. Not since Tary turned…  That had truly been a cold day.

Really. It was autumn on their planet and the downpour of rain was icy and pelted the ground above the ceiling of his bunker office with pounding ferocity. It had been a nice reminder of what up above was like, since becoming the leader of his people, he spent most of his time in the Underground. To hear the rain… it was like a gift from the Ancestors. He sat at his desk, leaning back in his chair with his eyes closed, and listening, just contentedly listening to the sounds of familiarity lost. When Taryi burst into his office. The bang of his office door thoroughly removed all content as did the face of Tary. Livid. Angry. Done. Before Ladon could even ask what was wrong, Taryi shouted at him about the injustice being shown to Commander Kolya, about how Ladon was hunting him down for no reason other than he disagreed with Ladon. About how Ladon was acting towards the Commander the same way Cowen acted towards his enemies. At that, Ladon shot to his feet. And at that point, Ladon wrangled in his anger, something that never would have occurred to Cowen, something the dead man was incapable of. Ladon came out from behind his desk to tell Tary face to face that the Commander was indeed taking direct action against the new government Ladon had forged and that wasn’t just voicing opinions that disagreed with Ladon, it was treason and treason must be dealt with. Tary railed against that, pointing out that Ladon had committed treason against Cowen. Ladon countered that it was not treason when all of their people were behind him. Tary spat that not all of the people were with him. Shock. That’s what Ladon remembered feeling in the face of his friend. He had lost his best friend. Tary had not been behind him, wasn’t with him. Tary was with Kolya.

Joe and Paul’s eyes shift to each other. Do they press Radim or not?

“And Devarik,” Carl moves the questioning on again rendering the internal debate mute.

Joe and Paul’s eyes return to Radim.

“I was least close with him,” Radim eases back in his chair as he utters the words with a sigh. Comfort resuming in not talking about things quite so close to him and the memories they bring up.

The West Pier staff take the hint, Ladon Radim could care less about this guy other than he’s probably a pain in the Genii’s side.

“He is fearless,” Ladon goes on, far more casually than he was when describing the other men, “Always has been. Even in training, he would take the sparring opportunities that others would not. Sometimes he would succeed in scoring a hit on his opponent, but many, many more times he would fail and the hit would be scored on him. Almost always the equivalent of a fatality.

“However, many believe that, aside from Toran, he would have been successor to Commander Kolya’s command. Such a propensity for action with a disregard for the personal costs was deemed to be something akin to Commander Kolya’s own actions. A sort of mirror reflection of the man. I disagree, Commander Kolya knew the costs very well each and every time he acted and he never disregarded them.”

“But his own son was killed during the invasion you made during the storm our first year here,” Joe begs to differ.

“Even then I maintain the same opinions as I do now. The fact of that matter was and still is that the Commander underestimated the single-handed tenaciousness of Colonel Sheppard. We all did.”

Okay, that does make some amount of sense. Kolya had been incredibly confident in the ease of the Genii’s ability to take Atlantis when she was under siege by the massive storm, the city was after all supposed to be empty. All the Genii had to do was walk in, maybe take out a handful of guards if any had genuinely been left behind, and just start taking things into their own hands. It should have been a cake walk. Should have been. Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard had been in the city still at the time of the takeover and had proceeding to be a one-man army of complete devastation to the enemy forces when Kolya had threatened Doctor Elizabeth Weir’s life. In the single move of raising Atlantis’ Stargate’s shield, Sheppard had killed fifty-five Genii reinforcements, one of which had been Kolya’s son. But even taking into account Sheppard’s unpredictable actions, who would bring their son into a battle zone like that? A seasoned military commander like Acastus Kolya, that’s who.

All of the staff save for Rob and Brad relax a bit. So of the three probabilities, it’s most likely Taryi or Devarik that they’re dealing with. But be wary to not rule out Dainian the Super Cleric In Exile. The three staff members pegged to take notes highlight that name especially. They’re no fools. Earth’s various cultures have huge issues with religious fanatics carrying out acts of terrorism or mass homicide under the guise of piety. With their experience on their home planet, the cleric is likely the most dangerous of all.

“Is it possible all three would act together?”

Ladon aims a sardonic and sarcastic look at Paul as though the Lanteans have learned nothing of his people over their many years experience with each other since their first encounter.

Paul takes the hint on how stupid a question that was and moves on, “What danger are you in?”

Silence.

Paul’s gaze isn’t letting Radim get out of answering this one.

Ladon bites his tongue inside his mouth…  But it’s true. He can’t get out of answering. “Much,” he finally answers reluctantly, “Our interests in both the farmers and the Wraith collaborators are great,” he sidesteps the attempt at defining any personal danger he might be in, “The Wraith’s followers are increasing both their activity and aggression. It’s extremely unusual for them, they’re normally pacifists, ironically enough. They tend to defer to their masters for such military movements as they’ve made of late. Keeping an eye on these particular Wraith servants is of great benefit to us. The farmers are… of agricultural concern.” He puts that delicately and hopes…

“You’re running out of food,” Joe says bluntly. Figuring out the lesser of the Genii’s secret two evils. The more public one.

…to no avail. “No,” the Genii leader corrects.

“But you just said—“

“We are not running out of food,” Ladon forces himself to admit the rest. Normally he would not show so much weakness and fallibility to an opponent, but circumstances dictate that this be the case, “The sickness caused by our weapons research is degrading the populace at a comparable rate.”

Sudden silence requires Ladon Radim to look at every face around this table. Every single pair of eyes and the faces they’re on are sobered to hear that and some part of Ladon is heartened to see it. The Lanteans have always been extremely compassionate people, that’s been no secret. It’s why they’re such close friends with the Athosians, an extremely compassionate race in their own right. He had thought once that Lantean’s kindness and sympathy towards others would be beaten out of them quickly as it had been with the Genii a long time ago… during the better times of the Confederation, when the Ancestors had first abandoned every place they knew here to the wrath of the Wraith… before the Genii had been betrayed for their kindness and sincerity, for their compassion by those they sought to help. But time has proven him wrong on this account. The Lanteans have never ceased feeling and caring so much for the others that they meet. It’s become a strength of the Lanteans and a powerful one at that. And it is the only reason why Ladon Radim is willing to go so far with the truth of the current conditions of his people and governing as this. The people of Atlantis will be more unwilling to use the rest of this information against him far more than any other race in this galaxy short of the Athosians themselves.

“Our food is also becoming poisoned by our work on the weapons and is passing on ailments to our population not already exposed to the research.”

The silent expressions turn stunned. A few of the men can’t even look at him anymore, one looks down and two look away to the walls. The Genii leader erred on the right side of caution, the compassion is palpable and deafening all at the same time.

Carl asks slowly, awed into allowing Ladon a true sense of dignity, “Your people are dying from poisoned food?”

More silence from the Genii. And the rest of the room. Carl’s dark eyes find Rob’s. Damn. That settles that.

“So you’re bullying other people out of theirs,” Joe can’t understand fathom stooping that low no matter the desperation.

“We are requesting no more than their excess and in exchange we are offering them our help in protection from the Wraith.”

“Protection you can’t guarantee let alone provide,” Paul points out.

Ladon locks eyes with him, “We can provide it.”

“How?”

“I can’t tell you that.”

“Why no—You, you’ve done something, haven’t you?” Joe hits on what’s not being divulged.

The compassion dissipates a little under the weight of Ladon continuing to remain silent. He witnesses a different expression cross their faces, one he’s somewhat familiar with although they may have a different term for it.

There’s another ‘Aw crap’ moment exchanged between the West Pier staff.

Gate Teams Director Carl Binder allows Genii Leader Ladon Radim a dignified way out of saying anything else that might result in them holding the man hostage on a more permanent basis. “Why are you telling us this?”

“Because my people are in danger and we need the food. We need those five Stargates back.”

Rob and Brad can’t help but feel something else is going on, something Radim’s not saying.

“What else,” Brad asks.

Ladon looks at him and it’s clear he hadn’t been expecting that question. He’d probably been relying on pity to help him skate by.

“It’s more than just untainted food for your people, we can tell, so what else,” Bradley doesn’t back off.

Now he’s caught in the crosshairs…  Ladon Radim, head of the Genii government, begins reluctantly with wiggle room allotted him by the armed marines stationed behind his back and their commanders sitting in front of him and pressing the question to him.

“If these renegades get this much control of the Stargate network, do you really think that Atlantis and the Wraith will be their only targets let alone their first?”

There’s the clincher. There’s the catch.

Rob and Brad nod and ease back into their chairs. Ladon nods back, why not give them a third obvious evil to think over and keep the first secret evil to himself still. The Lanteans do no need to know it, their relief at what he’s given them so far is enough to confirm this information exchange’s value.

“What else have you got,” Carl moves the questioning on again. He’d never mentioned it to anyone before, but he’s always admired the Genii, developed a soft spot for them over the years. In Atlantis and especially around some of her more senior personnel like Colonel Sheppard or Ronon Dex, any sentiments like that might be seen as treason. Maybe even suspect of mutiny to some of them. And despite himself, he’s also always had a soft spot for Ladon Radim especially… the same way Barbara Walters has a soft spot for Fidel Castro only without the sexual interest. Admiration and respect.

Radim pours himself a glass of clean pure water and takes a sip to wet his mouth and his throat before he continues to answer their questions. He makes another mental note to keep in mind to someday return the consideration this Carl Binder has shown him. If he ever gets the chance…

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