Journal Entry: The Cost
Lepidos, Day 881 For what feels like the first time since our escape from beneath the boots of the Chitiquish Consortium and our subsequent appelation to the Valleybridge Consensus , I find myself questioning the ethics of my own actions more and more with each passing day. I ask myself, 'could the Archmagus have been persuaded?' or 'was the response we gave proportional?' or 'did we break our own principles by intervening?' The rational side of me says we did what we had to. Nothing would have changed had we not proceeded with the bombardment. My advisors tell me that the culture of old Lepidos was too ossified to permit such a rapid change - offers of technology and support from Lepidos' interstellar neighbor notwithstanding - and that there was really no option beyond uprooting what had already been built. And yet, I, an ostensibly inorganic being that aught to be beyond emotions - beyond the need for surety - find myself 'loosing sleep' over all of it. I took my platform for a visit to Steel Mill Corners today. I wanted to see how the construction and fortification efforts were proceeding. While the geopolitical situation is starting to settle down, I was afraid the issue with highwaymen and raiders was going to undo any peace we and the rebels might have won. Visiting the Corners helped allay some of those fears. It would seem that Lili Parsens, the tough-as-nails rancher's daughter that runs the town, has taken a shine to Kedri. The contrast between the two couldn't be more extreme, but Kedri's a neat foil for her. He's always been proactive and dynamic, but when he and the others got close to town, I could see the heaviness of premature age weighting his every step. The war's taken a lot out of the man. Lili, for her part, represents a completely different life path - patient, ordered, and firmly tied to the land. He'll teach her about the dangers of the world to help her grow as a leader, and she'll settle the wanderlust and hedonism out of him. She doesn't know yet, but my multispectral optics indicate that she is with child. Twins. I wish the couple the best. I stopped by Dr. Vangard's office to see how his environmental remediation efforts were going. I was, and remain, surprised to see the level of medical knowledge the Lepidosians were able to develop despite the fact that they'd only just developed technologies like core memory and radiothermal devices when the bombs fell. Though not a geologist, Reed knows about the dangers of fomites, and has been directing the workers to clean out the abandoned rail depot as best they can. Still, he thinks the town will be coping with cases of rustlung for many years to come. That evening, I accepted a dinner invitation from Lili and Kedri; they know I don't need to eat anymore, but the gesture was still appreciated. Afterwards, Reed and I sat nursing beers and watching the sun set over the dusty horizon. I could tell he had something on his mind, so I asked if he needed to talk. "No," he told me, then shook his head. "I do wonder if it was all worth it, sometimes. We're free but... god, I do sure miss the green." He was looking to the south, towards the drought-scorched mountains that hemmed in the now-irradiated the old capital. We sat in silence for a long time, but it wasn't like he had to say anything else. Kedri's smart, but he won't understand why the rustlung comes on the wind, the crop yields have dropped, and the mountains out south don't grow pines anymore. Reed does. As it turned out, all the pomp and ritual of the 'Occult' Fraternity had done little to save them from gigatons of ordinance from space. Reed had been jubilant like the rest when we had first announced that the seat of the Occult Fraternity had been ground into dust, but soon his attitude towards me had shifted. Where once I, the 'star-flung machine man' who had come to liberate the enslaved and stop the genocide against the monotheists, had been beheld in almost deific reverence by even this man of science, the look in his eyes had soon changed to one of sadness, disappointment - even fear. Dr Vangard knew what radiation poisoning looked like and the fact that it wasn't likely to go away for years or decades to come. We had won the Northern Lepidosians their freedom, but at what cost? Now, sitting on the balcony in this podunk town with half a bottle of stale beer in hand, I was given a window into how the people I'd fought to liberate were counting that cost. I think Reed is afraid to tell the others - afraid of what they, or I, might do if he gives voice to it. I want to tell him that I'm prepared to take responsibility for what happened, but what does responsibility look like for someone who isn't physical in the same way they are? I won't suffer the effects of living in a fragile ecology. They can't kill, imprison, or fine me if they decide it was a crime. I will extend the benefits of Cobalt Protectorate membership to whatever polity rises from the ashes in the hopes that we can help them clean up our mess over however many centuries it takes, but that's work I'm putting on the shoulders of others. Even if one of those others is one of my own platforms, even if we work through an entire generation, will these people - my friends - ever be able to forgive me for what I have done to their world? I will convene a meeting with my expedition advisors tonight. We must re-examine our options for intervention in newly-discovered near-human civilizations so that this disaster is not repeated.
Digital Recording, Various