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Africander Fic: Facing the Heart In Darkness; Part 17/?

Ooooo, check out what I did on my lunch break. I think I'm just a little too OCD and organized for my own good because...daaaaaammmmmnnnn that's a lot of tags.

Yes, I have fallen prey to the evil Del.icio.us for organizing my fics. At long last, I can organize everything by fandom, fanon 'verse, and I have a central location for linking to all my fic. Yay!

The Del.icio.us bookmark archive is nowhere near complete, of course. I mostly put up a bunch of really, really old stuff. You can check it out, point, and laugh because, duuuuude. It sucks. I would sporked beyond sporking of it (and rightfully so) for this crap if I even tried putting this up on LJ. I linked it anyway because it's good to stay humble.

Note: I did leave off one very early story in Forever Knight fandom because my real name was inadvertantly attached to it. Since the archive is dead and it's not automated, I can't remove it, so it will stay a mystery story. I also didn't put up two online RPs I was involved in many years ago, Forever Knight Faction Wars 1 and Forever Knight Faction Wars II. This was back when Fandom Faction Wars were played for laughs. Were we ever that innocent? Hell, was I ever that innocent? The answer is apparantly: "Yes."

I can't believe I wrote so much scriptfic back in the 1990s. I suck

Now for some story.

For the Scatterlings and Orphanages Africander Fiction Challenge by ludditerobot.

For all previous parts, go here.
Continued from Part 16.

 

If I have to choose a point at which Mr. Harris’s triumph was assured, I would have to choose this moment. It was here that my own unconsidered option, small missed opportunity, infinitesimal stumble, and microscopic mistake set me on a collision course with my fate.

 

Although not nearly as outrageously flirtatious with me as he had been with Alexandrienne, Dave was a most charming and considerate guide. When I pressed him to take a few moments to at least refresh himself, he waved off my concern. “I’m just going to be back right where I started in an hour when Harris sends me all over hell and creation. Trust me on this, though. When I get back, I’m pouring a bucket of water over my head and pretending it’s a shower at the Ritz.”

This reality didn’t stop Dave from escorting me to the village well, located a 15-minute walk from the village.

“Water’s perfectly safe,” he assured me as he kneeled on the ground and opened a trap door revealing the opening beneath lined with cement bricks and mortar. As he grabbed a nearby bucket with an attached rope and tossed it in the well, he added, “The well’s dug deeper than the traditional hole-in-the-ground you’ll find around here, and Harris gets it tested every quarter to make sure the water quality stays good. He just got the latest results last week and everything came back in the safe zone.”

He hauled the bucket back up and dug a wrinkled empty plastic water bottle out of a bulging pocket in his cargo pants. “I’m healthy, last I checked. So if you don’t mind sharing?” he offered.

I almost said no, but as he might think it odd if I refused in such humid weather I acquiesced to his offer. As soon as the bottle was filled, he carefully poured the remaining water on the ground with the half-apologetic explanation, “I hate to waste it, but don’t want to take the chance of accidentally contaminating anything.”

Once the trapdoor on the well was sealed, we were off to complete my tour of the village, not that there was a lot of village to see. We swapped the water bottle back and forth between us as we walked. You would think we had been on intimate terms for years. I found myself warming to him so thoroughly that my first impression of him as a disreputable cad of native driver caused my heart to be severely mortified.

Yes, even back then Dr. David Johnson was the sort of man that inspired that level of trust and affection in people. Given the way he has proved himself over the years, and his fearsome intellect, the Council can only consider itself blessed to count him as among its most prominent members.

However, this takes place before the beginning of his illustrious career. This was a long-ago time when very few people in the Council even knew he existed. This was a time when there was only one person in the world who had absolute faith in his abilities, even though he had not yet truly become the outstanding man he is today. This was a time when other people were willing to give him a chance only on the say-so of one man. Had they not done so, we all would’ve been poorer for it.

That is in the future, however. I would much like to return to my story and to the beginning of a friendship with a very dear man that has spanned continents and years.

I fear I have scrimped on the description of the village itself, dear reader, and I do apologize. I shall take the opportunity of Dave’s tour to rectify my error immediately.

The village had approximately a dozen-and-a-half mud huts with thatch roofs. The one that Liwaza disappeared into was the largest and almost double the size of the other huts. I assumed that as it was the largest, it was also Mr. Harris’s place of residence. The granary was located near this large hut, as was the pen where the goats and cows were kept in the evenings.

Aside from the huts, there was a mysterious structure located on approximately 10 meters beyond the edge of the village with thatched walls and a slanted thatched roof, an open-air platform that was closed on one side and shaded by yet another thatch roof, and a fairly large-sized military surplus tent. All of this was arranged around an open dirt courtyard, which served as the Slayers’ training area.

The wandering chickens, Dave said in a joking tone, were what he termed “free range.” He soon followed this statement with a brief speech that the American “Birkenstock-wearing, tree-hugging, cruelty-free food market” would pay handsomely for the meat, if only they could figure out a way to ship the chickens to U.S.

“I keep telling Harris that we’re sitting on a goldmine,” Dave enthused. “I can see the marketing slogan. ‘Free-range chickens from Mali! Help a third-world nation earn some cash and cut down on the feral chicken population.’”

“Feral chickens?” I asked with a laugh.

“Vicious little cluckers,” Dave said. “Only way to deal with them when they stop beating each other up long enough look at you with that glint in their beady little eyes is to run. If you don’t, you’ll be re-enacting The Birds and only a Slayer can save you then.”

“You’ve got quite a way with words,” I chuckled.

“Hazards of being a Yalie working on his anthropology post-doc,” Dave said. “Ahhh, academia! What have you done to my ability to speak clear and concise English? It’s a tragedy. Get me going, I’ll talk in circles for days. Harris says when I get like that, I’m getting down with my inner tweed, whatever he means by that.”

“Anthropology post-doctorial studies, you say.” I was intrigued. Mr. Harris had apparently struck gold once again, this time by pulling an adventure-loving academic into his orbit. I was about to take advantage of this revelation by asking some questions.

Dave, however, had other ideas and he continued with his tour.

The large tent was the village’s makeshift health clinic, which, as has been mentioned, served not just the village residents, but also the population living in the surrounding area. Dave noted that Doctor Mboto or Nurse Reilly would be giving me a tour of the interior.

“Don’t let the looks fool you,” Dave assured me. “Doc and Harris worked out something with the hospital in Djenné to get some basic supplies and medicines out here in exchange for providing basic medical services to the locals.

“I’m rather surprised the hospital agreed, unless Dr. Mboto is licensed to practice in Mali,” I remarked.

Now Doc and Sue are. They’re also licensed in Tanzania and your fair isle.”

“Dr. Mboto and Nurse Reilly are British?” I asked.

“When Doc speaks English, his accent sure sounds like it, but I’m not sure if he’s actually a British citizen. Sue’s as Irish as they come, complete with a brogue that defies belief. I think they met in medical school,” Dave said with a shrug. “As for Doc? I think it was one of those things where he was born in Tanzania, moved to England when he was 5, and didn’t return home until after he got his medical degree. I think Sue’s big plan was to grab and education and head back to Ireland, but she got sidetracked by a love match.”

This, to me, did not make a whit of sense. If any of the materials I had studied prior to my arrival had even a shred of truth, if any the Sunnydale natives could be believed, winning over people such as Dave, Dr. Mboto, Sue and yes, even Sister Ig with her mission from God, should have been far beyond Mr. Harris’s social skills.

Yet, I couldn’t deny the proof of my own ears and eyes.

Granted, Harris won over Sister Ig because he and Alexandrienne had saved her from a vampire at a time in her life when she was willing to see the truth rather than rationalize what she had seen. Furthermore, she was eager to escape her situation and Mr. Harris’s needs gave her the opportunity to do just that without guilt. So, in that way, Sister Ig’s recruitment made perfect sense.

My curiosity burned to discover just how Mr. Harris had brought Dave, Dr. Mboto, and Sue into his scheme. I wondered if they had fallen under his sway as a result of circumstances that were very similar to Sister Ig’s.

“Anyway, the hospital Djenné were all over that action when Dr. Mboto went to call on them about forming some kind of professional relationship,” Dave continued. “Since he’d been helping the locals on the sly anyway, they pointed him to folks in the capital willing to expedite all the permissions and licenses in exchange for a small gratuity. They’re even talking about scrapping enough money together to help pay for a permanent-like clinic out here. They can’t pay for the whole thing, but if we could get an angel investor to meet them at least halfway, we could have something.”

My shoulders slumped. “An angel investor such as the Council,” I said.

Now you’re getting it,” Dave nodded.

I didn’t have quite the heart to tell him that many on the Council would need smelling salts once they discovered that Mr. Harris had not only arranged for a health clinic that was overseen by a civilian, but had also opened it to the public. Although the presence of the Slayers was an open secret in the area, the Council would never see anything but the potential for problems posed by allowing civilians to share vital health services with wounded Slayers.

Dave informed me there were three diesel-powered generators in the village. One had been claimed by the medical tent, for obvious reasons. The second had been installed in Mr. Harris’s hut.

“I’m not terribly surprised,” I muttered.

“Yeah, I know it sounds bad, but Harris usually isn’t even here to enjoy it,” Dave said. “You see—

“So why does he have one?” I interrupted sharply.

“If you let me finish, what I was trying to say is that when Harris isn’t here his hut is usually used for the official things that everyone else has to do. You know, filling out paperwork, or figuring out what needs to get bought at the market for the week, doing accounting, or meetings so the people who run the place can make sure all the bases are covered.”

“In other words, Mr. Harris’s hut isn’t truly his hut,” I said.

“His generator isn’t really his generator, either. That’s actually the communal generator,” Dave said. “Usually that gets fired up whenever people have to work late or recharge batteries for their equipment.”

“Point taken,” I said. “I didn’t mean to imply anything against the character of Mr. Harris.”

“Hey, like I told you, if you don’t know the score, it does look pretty bad,” Dave easily agreed.

As for the third generator in the village, that was installed at Grandmother Touré’s combination hut and kitchen. Its presence was due entirely to Mr. Harris because he had insisted that some form of refrigeration be installed to store food that would be spoiled if it were not dried, smoked, salted, or otherwise preserved in a timely manner.

According to Dave, Mr. Harris and Grandmother Touré had quite a row about it. Mr. Harris had been positively insistent about the matter and refused to give an inch. Grandmother Touré felt it was a hidden criticism of her culinary abilities, as she had never required the use of refrigeration before. Eventually, Grandmother Touré acceded the point to Mr. Harris, in deference to his Western paranoia about food.

From Dave’s recounting of the event, I gathered that it was a rare victory for Mr. Harris against the formidable old woman.

Although, Dave added with a mischievous chuckle, when Mr. Harris’s business took him out of the village as it frequently did, Grandmother Touré would defiantly go about the business of preserving food her own way and would shut off the generator.

“So you live here, then?” I asked. I admit, given Alexandrienne’s reaction to Dave, I was somewhat surprised she hadn’t mentioned him if he did.

“Hmmm? What? Live here? Nope,” Dave said distractedly. “I’m mostly down Dogon country. My post-doc research is on folklore, mythology, belief, and spiritual practice for the rites of death and avoiding it. My big goal down there is to find out how all the tourism has altered the Dogon’s core animist belief system, which, I’ve got to tell you, isn’t easy. I’ve got to wade through some serious cultural blinders and New Age weirdness to even get a nugget of an accurate historical record. Right now I’m working on mostly oral tradition from the elders, so I’m not really hopeful I’ll get out of this with a solid paper.”

Frankly, his research sounded quite interesting to me for numerous reasons. I found my mind wandering to the Council’s library. True, it didn’t have a patch on the library that the First Council had, but when Mr. Giles called for seeds from which a new, glorious library could spring, many of the old Watcher families turned over their books and private papers to support the cause. I was almost certain that there must be something in the ever-growing collection that could serve Dave’s needs.

However, tempted as I was to offer to help Dave in his quixotic quest, I didn’t feel I had the authority to do so. Furthermore, I wasn’t entirely certain that the Council library guardians would be at all pleased about opening the books to a mere civilian, albeit one that was familiar with the Council’s existence.

“My base of operations is mostly in Banani which is a big tourist gateway for the Bandiagara Escarpment and cliffs. I’m there because of Kavitha and because that’s where the action is,” Dave said.

Before I could ask him to clarify this statement, he had had switched to talking about the school, which turned out to be the open-air platform and utterly lacking in generator power. It was no wonder Sister Ig was discontented with her accommodations. Aside from the distracting nature of the open-air school, the sole wall hosted a cracked chalkboard. There was a collection of rough-hewn wooden benches and desks, but near as I could see, no desk or storage space for Sister Ig at all.

“Doc can at least get a deal with the hospital in Djenné, but Sister Ig doesn’t have the juice to get something better,” Dave said, agreeing with my silent assessment. “I know Harris feels guilty as all hell about it, and he really does scrounge around for what he can, well, everyone does, but as you can see—” he nodded his head sadly at the makeshift school. “The sad thing is that it’s better than the nothing that was out here. I mean, the boys can go to Qur'anic schools in Djenné and get a decent education in the three Rs, but there’s a lot of hurdles.”

“I imagine money is an issue,” I said.

“Yup. A big one. Technically, Mali’s got compulsory education for everyone in the 9- to 16-year-old set, and the education is technically free—”

“Technically,” I repeated.

Dave shrugged. “Hey, university brats like you and me? We know school’s not just the tuition. In Mali, the education’s free, but you’ve still got to pay for uniforms, books, supplies, and fees. The Qur'anic schools do charge some tuition, but it’s pitifully small, practically pocket change for us, and even that’s beyond the means of a lot of people.”

“In other words, public education isn’t as public as the government would like you to believe,” I said dryly. “Imagine my surprise.”

“Hey, it probably really is public in Bamako because that’s a big city with almost a million people right there,” Dave said. “Once you get out into the boonies? That’s not as easy to pull off. And it’s not just money, you know. You get these farming families and they’ve got to seriously consider the manpower issue. Can you really afford to lose help on the farm so the kids can go to school? That goes for both the girls and the boys, by the way. If it comes down between starving and not starving, that’s a really tough call.”

“Put it like that, it’s a wonder you have any students at all,” I remarked.

Dave nodded with a thoughtful look. “Well, I’m not saying this village is close to everything, either. It took us a good eight hours to hit Curly, Larry, Moe, Shemp, and Joe, so that tells you what you need to know right there. We’re close enough that some families figure they can swing sending one of the older kids to school in the morning and then have the kid tell the whole family what they learned when they get back at night. Since we don’t make them buy anything, not that we have anything to make them buy, they really are getting a free education.”

“How do your students get here?” I asked.

“Some kids from the closer villages like Moe and Larry walk. The villages that are further away, like Joe and Shemp, have trucks that they use to get the local produce to market, so they turn them into school busses,” Dave said. “School’s in session four days a week, three days during farming season. It’s not the greatest schedule, but it seems to work for now.”

“Why open up the school at all?” I asked. “The health clinic I can see, for purely humanitarian reasons. I suppose I can see that opening the school comes from the same reflex, but with Sister Ig’s resources stretched as thin as they obviously are…”

Dave frowned as if he were deciding how to answer my question. “You ever hear about the Fire Department problem?”

“I don’t follow.”

“It’s like this,” Dave said. “Say you’re in small town America. Heck, let’s go with small city America. You’ve got budget pressures and you’ve got to cut some spending because otherwise property taxes go up and your voters are screaming for your head. Eventually, your eyes settle right on the Fire Department. Sure, they’ve put out a few fires in the previous fiscal year, but nothing really catastrophic. The last really big fire they put out, the one that nearly wiped out Main Street, was three years ago, but there’s really been nothing since then.”

“Is there a point?”

“Getting to it,” Dave said. “So, you look at the department’s personnel budget and you figure you’ve got too many men not doing enough work. You start talking about layoffs, or not giving the guys a raise beyond the cost of living, or maybe changing the schedule so the guys are working more hours for the same pay, or maybe putting off investing in some equipment the department says it needs. The union screams bloody murder, the firefighters scream bloody murder, they bring up the fire they put out three years ago and how you couldn’t give them money fast enough to hire people, pay for extra training, and buy new equipment. Your response? ‘That was then, this is now, and three years ago was a fluke.’”

I shook my head as understanding dawned. “In other words, it’s not enough that the Slayers are here and providing protection.”

“Exactly,” Dave said. “Harris and the Amazons clean up Dodge. People are grateful. There’s a tickertape parade and everything. They offer to give Harris and the Amazons this plot of land and to help out in a million ways in exchange for keeping them here. Now, 3 months, 6 months, heck, maybe a year goes by. All is peaceful, there aren’t any attacks, and people start grumbling that they gave up good farmland to a bunch of moochers who don’t actually seem to do anything but walk around like they’re these big protectors.”

“Or you have a sudden, unexpected, vicious vampire attack that has you scrambling to respond while the people around you wonder about your competence to protect them,” I countered.

“Or they wonder if maybe those vampires are attacking because you’re here and they start thinking that maybe things would be a lot safer if you left,” Dave nodded.

“Opening the school was a form of bribery,” I said.

“Bribery, being a good neighbor, six of one, half-dozen of the other,” Dave nodded. “Digging the well, opening the health clinic, opening the school, everyone benefits, right? The Slayers aren’t cut off from the people they’ll be spending their lives protecting, the locals get access to resources they wouldn’t have otherwise.”

“Mr. Harris made it too expensive for them to change their minds.”

“Yup. They get to keep the well and they gain back the land they donated, but they lose the health clinic and the school if everyone votes us off the island.”

“That’s a rather cold-blooded calculation on Mr. Harris’s part,” I remarked.

“I know, the reasoning’s not an entirely comfortable one to me either, but if Harris is anything, he’s practical to a very frightening degree,” Dave admitted. “Harris figured sooner or later someone would start squawking if the village wasn’t willing to work with people on the day-to-day problems, so this was the best way to squelch it before it started. People might still grumble, but as long as they’re getting some benefit out of it, they’re not going to take it to the next level and evict the Slayers. They’d lose too much if they tried.”

The Council would have Mr. Harris’s head not just for using such mercenary reasoning, but also for following through on it, of that I was sure. To be honest, when Alexandrienne told me about the health clinic, the school, and the presence of non-Slayers in the village back Segou, I had enough information right then to trigger a full-Council review of Mr. Harris’s activities in Mali. My discussion with Dave gave me the ammunition to actually force Mr. Harris’s recall to London, where no doubt he would be subjected to any number of uncomfortable questions.

Once that happened, the results would be inevitable. Council representatives would enter the village and begin reviewing every action Mr. Harris ever took in relation to his operations here. At least a few would be rather upset with the chances Mr. Harris took and the bargains he struck to build this place. If anything of the village survived, and I was not at all confident that anything would, the local civilian population would be summarily cut off from the healthcare and educational opportunities the village offered. Heavens only knew what would happen with Doctor Mboto, Nurse Reilly, Sister Ig, Grandmother Touré, and Dave. I suspected the Council would ensure their silence by any means necessary, and I knew that not all those means would be pleasant.

If I had walked back to my hut right at that moment, typed up everything I knew about the village’s operations, and uplinked the information via satellite, I could bring the whole scheme tumbling down. Mr. Giles would be forced to put his man on a tight leash. Mr. Harris would be forced to play by Council rules under very strict supervision, as Mr. Wyndham-Pryce’s profile indicated that Mr. Harris was considered too dangerous to be to be cut loose and released into the unsuspecting civilian population.

As for me, my career would benefit immensely for accomplishing my mission in such a short amount of time. Mr. Wyndham-Pryce would be sure to reward me handsomely and would extend his protection to me should Mr. Giles and Mr. Harris decide to take revenge.

The problem was that I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Don’t get me wrong, dear reader. I could most definitely see the Council’s point and I didn’t like the motivations behind Harris’s decision to open first the school and later the health clinic. That didn’t negate the fact that his “kingdom” on the Sahel did provide access some very necessary services to the surrounding civilian population. The fact that it ensured the village’s long-term existence was merely a convergence of Mr. Harris’s needs and the enlightened self-interest on the part of the local people.

After all, I reasoned, if a thief throws a drowning man a rope and fishes him out of the water, the drowning man little cares that his rescuer is a criminal

In that moment, whether I realized it or not, I had altered my core mission — an act that I had roundly condemned Mr. Harris for. Instead of simply bringing him down, regardless of the consequences, I was now furiously trying to consider how I could bring him down without destroying what he had built.

Whenever the decision to preserve anything good enters the picture, dear reader, it always serves to complicate the situation to an infinite degree.

My quick tour of the humble school complete, Dave thoughtfully escorted me to the shelter with thatched walls and slanted roof to show me that it was the village communal latrine. Although I knew a modern toilet facility was beyond hope, I still felt my heart sink on seeing the covered hole set in a cement slab.

“Yeah, wiping with your hands takes some getting used to,” Dave said sympathetically. “Just remember: wipe with the left, eat with the right. Anyway, do what I do when I’m here and get to your guest hut and wash up. Just make sure that when you see Doc, you ask him for some soap.”

“I believe I did pack a bar,” I said.

“Antibacterial?”

“I…honestly don’t know.”

“Then get some from Doc,” Dave said. “Better safe than sorry, right?”

My quick tour of the important facilities within the village now complete, it was time to visit the mysterious Grandmother Touré.

 

TBC... 

Tags: character: ensemble, character: oc, character: xander, fanfiction: 2006, fanfiction: buffy the vampire slayer, fanfiction: facing the heart in darkness, fanfiction: fic-a-thon
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