Changing The Story
(A.K.A. One Day Down At The Shooting Range)
Irvine Kinneas stepped into the Shooting Range as if he belonged there, tipping his stetson to the young woman who was handling the targets and glancing toward his favorite stall.
It was occupied--but not by anyone he would have expected to see there.
He hesitated for a moment, customary aplomb a bit ruffled. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed the target-setter giving him a veiled knowing look, and--for dignity and public image--walked straight up to the man.
"I didn't know you shot," he said, walking up the the headmaster of Galbadia Garden as if they talked candidly every day.
Martine looked up--literally up, as Irvine was notably taller than he was. "Mr. Kinneas," he said by way of greeting. I don't anticipate that you would come down here too often when I frequent the range."
Irvine shrugged. "Pistol, eh?"
Martine nodded. "That much should be obvious," he said. "I suspect that there's some reason you wanted to interrupt my practice?"
Irvine made a wounded gesture. "A student can't talk to his Headmaster once in a while?" he asked. "There were some rumors going around that you were staying in Fisherman's Horizon. I was a bit surprised to see you here."
Martine gave him a tired look. "Rumors are, by and large, spurious," he said. "You should know not to put too much stock into them."
"It wouldn't be the strangest thing to happen in recent memory," Irvine defended.
Martine appeared to concede that point--tacitly, of course. "What is it you want, Kinneas?"
Irvine sighed. "Well, if you really want me to dig a question up, there is something I've been thinking about since we beat ol' Ulty."
"I was thinking about transferring out of G-Garden, maybe taking the SeeD test--"
"You want to go to Balamb." Martine sighted down the barrel of his pistol, brushing off imaginary specks of dust. "I don't even have to call up your records, Kinneas. Your performance doesn't merit it, and your grades certainly don't merit it. You're an average student, at best. Average students don't get to be SeeDs."
Irvine swung his rifle up onto his shoulder, causing Martine to flinch as the end passed his face. "What happened to the 'elite sharpshooter' you sent on the Deling City mission?" he asked, halfway smug.
Martine sighed deeply. "I'd really rather not be reminded," he said. "I was trying to wash my hands of that mission. I couldn't spare a real professional, and I couldn't let your friends there know that."
"So you lied."
Irvine leveled a finger at him, smile widening ever so subtly. "Nah," he pronounced. "You're changing the story. You're not allowed to do that."
Martine looked up sharply. "What?"
"See, I can't trust you now," Irvine explained. "I know that you lied once, and I don't know that you aren't lying now. And since I can't trust anything you tell me, I have to draw my own conclusions."
Martine gave him a tired look. "That's not the way it works."
Martine crossed his arms. "Kinneas, no matter what you think my motives were, you can't argue with the facts. I had access to the reports, you know. I know what happened on that mission. If that's any indication--"
"But it isn't," Irvine objected. "I mean, my aim was good, right? Not my fault that she had some shield thing."
"You hesitated, soldier."
"Wouldn't you?" Irvine shrugged. "And I made it up. Or did you ignore the rest of the report?"
"If you're referring to your misadventures with the SeeD team, I hardly think that qualifies you."
"You're talking about the misadventures that saved the world, man," Irvine clarified.
"The series of mishaps and misdemeanors that coincidentally resulted in the salvation of the world," Martine clarified back. "I'm not sure there's a rule in SeeD you didn't break or bend. And taking a Garden on a series of frivolous activities isn't even covered in the rulebook, it's so bizarre."
"But it all turned out right in the end."
Martine fixed Irvine with a cool glare. "You see this six-shooter, Mr. Kinneas?" he asked, holding up his pistol.
Irvine glanced at it. "Yeah. Nice gun."
"I want you to think about something," Martine said. "Let's pretend that each shot I have in here is a choice I have to make. How many do you think it would take--even with the best intentions--to end the world?"
Irvine blinked. "What?" he asked. "What kind of a question is that?"
"Think about it."
Irvine stared at the diminutive gun. He tried to think about it. "I don't think you could end the world with that thing," he said.
Martine shook his head. Carefully, he pulled the gun up and aimed--right at the center of Irvine's forehead. "You're wrong," he said. "Your world, I could end in one."
Martine waited a moment for that to sink in, and then lowered the gun. Irvine watched him carefully.
"You're reckless," Martine pronounced. "You don't think--that's the problem. You have to be trained to know the consequences of your actions before you can be trained to be a responsible SeeD. You can't just float along on luck forever."
Irvine folded his arms. "So that's no, then."
"You have potential," Martine admitted. "But potential only gets you so far. I'm sorry."
Irvine worked his jaw, feeling a throb of bitterness across the bottom of his stomach. "Are you?"
Martine frowned. "Kinneas--"
"It's pretty convenient for you," Irvine shot back. "Nice how you get a second chance; the rest of us don't."
"A second--what are you implying?"
"I don't know what your intentions were. Don't really care, either. But you helped take the world to hell and back. I don't think anyone in Garden will object if I say you're one of the most disciplined people around. So what's it gotten you? New and bigger chances to screw up?"
"I've accepted responsibility for the consequences of my actions."
"And I'm taking responsibility for mine." Irvine gestured. "It seems to me that luck can be just as valuable as discipline. More, even. Unless you know for sure what's going to happen, discipline isn't so great as you think it should be."
"Don't split hairs with me, Kinneas," Martine warned. "That's a bad position for you to take."
Irvine waved it off. "I don't mean one-hundred-percent, bet a gil to a gold brick certain," he said. "If you put a gun to someone's head and pull the trigger, they're probably going to get killed. If you empty that sixshooter of yours into a crowd, you'll suffer for it. But I never did anything that I knew would hurt people. I tried my best not to. I did what I thought was right. That's what that hesitation was--I didn't know what I could do that would turn out right there. That's as much discipline as you should need--and if you just mean discipline so that you can follow orders, do what you're told, then hell. Esthar probably makes machines that can do that."
Martine looked at him critically. "Now who's changing the story?" he asked. "According to the mission reports, you said you 'always froze like that.' That's not weighing alternatives--it's panicking. And if you're going to debate every order that you're given...."
Irvine swung the rifle down, resting its barrels against the ground. "You're right," he said. "I probably wouldn't make a good SeeD."
Martine nodded, probably glad that he was listening to reason at last.
"But if you can't do that debating, then you're not a good Headmaster. And--it's odd to say so, sir--but you seem to be doing a passable job to me."
Martine raised both eyebrows skeptically. "You may the first student that's said that to me, soldier," he said. "I remember you were considerably less generous on the few occasions you've been brought to my office."
"Well, maybe that's something," he said. "Think about the past, and everything starts looking funny. Maybe that's why we just keep changing the story again and again."
Martine pondered that for a moment. "Hindsight is ever perfect," he agreed. "Well, Kinneas, I'll be sure to remember this conversation. Do better in your classwork, and maybe I'll look on it more favorably."
"Still no." Martine holstered his pistol, patting the butt of the gun with an air of finality. "Try me again in a semester or two. If you've shaped up a bit by then, we'll talk."
Irvine glanced off to one side, slightly resentful. "Yes, sir," he said.
Martine extended his hand, taking him by surprise. "You do have talent, soldier," he said. "I just don't want to see that go to waste." He gave Irvine a shade of a grin. "Some day, I'd like to refer to you as an elite sharpshooter without having to lie."
Irvine took his hand, recognizing the wry edge to the smile and giving him one back. "I still think you meant it the first time," he said.