FREEDOM OF CHOICE

One of the old philosophers said that free will is always an illusion. I can remember debating this and the entire principle of determinism, over lunch at college. If I want to, I can even recall the exact flavour of the food I was stuffing in my mouth while arguing with my friend Dan. But I never reached a definite conclusion. I still haven't, in this final confrontation with you, which might have been arranged by fate or by a random series of events and individual choices.

Once I told you I always distrusted you. I did. There was something about you I never could lay my fingers on, an elusiveness which infuriated me, because even then, when my clarity of focus was still intact and I lived to serve the Taelons, I was well aware I was in a prison of my own choice, and it seemed unfair that my fellow prisoner could retain the illusion of freedom. Could actually befriend someone I thought of as a god, instead of just worshipping in awe.

At the same time, I was relieved you existed. You were the first fellow implant I was in close contact with, and I found I could talk with you about some of the things which formed my life now - both our lives, I thought then. You were also a challenge, for it was possible for you to retain so much of your old self, I wondered, why not me? And I was always aware you were my responsibility. When I had Judson Corr kill your wife, I made, in a way, your choice for you, and whatever became of it was because of this.

You might say I regained my own freedom of choice when my first CVI broke down. Actually, there was no choice at all on that day. I knew I would die very soon, or get reimplanted if I stayed. There was no question of how to use those few precious hours, no question at all. There is something you never asked me, but you must have wondered, when I told you why I ordered the death of your wife. If I could not bring myself to kill Deedee, with the motivational imperative in full effect, why then not simply divorce her and forget her, instead of condemming her to a living death in that hospital? Perhaps, as we came to know each other, you guessed the answer. I couldn't let her go, it was that simple. If I had divorced her, I would have been distracted from my devotion to the Taelons by constantly wondering whether we couldn't get back together despite her lack of understanding about my new priorities, whether she had found someone else, where she was and what she was doing. So instead, I reduced her to a state of drugged catatonia where she would make no demands but also would be incapable of ever leaving me for good. Love isn't always a pretty thing, Boone. With me, it can get downright sick. At any rate, once I realised I was about to die and free of my MI at least, I knew I had to rectify this one, single crime. Free Deedee, finally let her go and ensure her safety before it was beyond my power to do anything for anyone.

As it turned out, the choice I had made when killing your wife, the choice which turned you into an Implant, also destroyed any chance Deedee might have had left. You killed her, and turned me into an Implant again. I should have known you would. When you told me I hated you more than I had ever hated anyone, except myself. I had failed her on all levels now, and was forever beyond redemption.

Later, when my new CVI had started working, I realised something else. We were even now, you and I. Finally, we were equals. That is what I wanted to say when I came to you afterwards, and in a way, I think you understood. There was a curious freedom about this, which had not been there in that short period when I was free in the sense someone like Marquette might use the word. Deedee was gone, and with her any chance of atonement. My responsibility towards you was gone, and for a while, my doubts. And my clarity of focus was back. For a while.

Even with my perfect memory, I cannot recall the exact moment when I began to realise something was changing in me again. There are odd bits and pieces. Beckett firing her Skrill at me, at the lowest level, in response to my challenge about her capabilities. What I felt then had nothing to do with the Taelons, or the guilt of the past. That Russian psychic telling me about the dead returning. But most of all, talking with Zo'or. Not a single conversation, several. At one time, he asked me: "Tell me, Agent Sandoval, is your loyality to the Taelons or to Da'an ?" What I should have replied, if I had been what I used to be, was that the welfare of the Taelons and the welfare of Da'an was one and the same. Instead, the question intrigued me, as I had never considered the MI would leave one a choice between individual Taelons. With hindsight, I believe Zo'or must have known or at least guessed even then what I was beginning to figure out. He would not have risked the question otherwise. At another time, he made a remark about Ro'ha's continued existence endangering the Commonality as a whole, and I found myself agreeing, without feeling the absolute horror at the prospect of the death of a Taelon, any Taelon, I was supposed to feel.

The moment I *can* pinpoint is the one when all the pieces of the puzzle came together for me. This was after you had made the mistake of threatening Zo'or regarding your sister. You shouldn't have been able to do that. No Implant with a fully functional MI can turn against a Taelon in that way. Before, Zo'or had just loathed you on general principle and because he saw Da'an's attachment to you as a weakness to the Commonality, but now, he saw you as the symptom of something more dangerous. "When you worked together with Commander Boone this last year", he asked me, "did you ever gain the impression that his Motivational Imperative does not what it should?" That was when I understood, when I finally comprehended everything about you and me. No, your MI wasn't working. And if it was possible for one CVI to function without the Motivational Imperative, then it could be possible for another as well. I knew what it felt like when a CVI was starting to break down. That wasn't the case with me now. No bleedings, no headaches, no sudden overlapping flashbacks. I had perfect control over my skrill and my thought process. But my MI wasn't working as it should, either. While the Taelon aims had, at that point, still precedence over everything else for me, I had begun to develop my own ambitions. I had begun hide certain things, and I had begun to make choices I wasn't supposed to be making. The implications of what Zo'or had said nearly choked me. You had not changed. If your MI wasn't working now, it probably never had. Which meant that my illusion about us being equals was just that, an illusion. You had killed Deedee and returned me to what you believed was my former state only because you wanted to, not because you were the same as I had been. And Da'an, who had grown so close to you and certainly was no one's fool, must have known. Oh, it clarified a lot of things.

Zo'or wanting you dead when your fatal confrontation with Ha'gel gave him the chance was no surprise to me. As I said, he saw you as a dangerous weakness to be eliminated, and a chance to deliver a blow to Da'an to boot. What surprised me was that I felt I had a choice here. Not between helping Zo'or and helping Da'an. That is another thing you must have wanted to ask me, but didn't, because it would have given your cover away. Why choose Zo'or above Da'an? Well, you probably wouldn't understand my reasons anyway, so let's just say my ponderings about what to do with you weren't affected by what I thought about either Taelon. No, it was more a question of how vengeful I felt, and how sorry for you. The two aren't mutually exclusive, Boone. At least not with me. And I did pity you, for I finally understood the trap you were in for a year.

But you see, if I had made your choice for you regarding your wife and Deedee, you had made my choice for me when you made me into an Implant again and brought me back to life. Peaceful oblivion wasn't for either of us. "Killing him", I said to Zo'or, "would be a waste. He has an excellent mind. The body probably can't be of use anymore, but what about the Defender project? After a transfer, it should be no problem to condition him. For real, this time." I could see the idea appealed to Zo'or. He still felt humiliated by the fact that he had some of your cells in his body due to the virus this idiotic racists released. To have you, in any form, as his loyal servant was too good an opportunity to pass up, and besides, he was no one's fool, either. He did need strong minds for his project, and if you had been able to get along with a CVI, you probably could cope with the aggression conditioning as well.

So here we are, Boone. Your body was destroyed by Zo'or months ago. The man now standing on the bridge, threatening to kill Zo'or and everyone on the mothership, the man called Lazarus who finally regained access to his memories, is what is left of you. Your thought patterns, your memories, in the body of a former assassin, in case you are wondering. Is it you? I am not completely sure whether the amazing process through which the Taelons accomplished this really does transfer identities, or just mental imprints. It all comes back to the old question of whether or not we have a soul.

If we do have a soul, you and I, I don't think it can be completely human anymore. My MI must have continued to break down. What propels me now to protect Zo'or has hardly anything to do anymore with the absolute loyalty to the Taelons I once felt. So you might say I'm free again. But in a way, I am as changed as you are and still as bound. After two implantations and two awakenings, the being I am now hardly has much more in common with the FBI agent who volunteered to be a Protector... not more than the being in front of me has in common with William Boone, police captain and happily married husband. Lazarus has known complete and utter devotion to the Taelons. He has committed crimes in their name. He has consigned others to his fate. He is filled with vengeance, burning coldly like a black star, willing to annihilate anything.

Finally, we are equal.

So once again, I have a choice. Beckett isn't the only one who can stun with her skrill. I just need a moment's distraction to use it on you, and with the ship thrown into chaos, it will come. But I don't think I will stun you. It would mean to leave you like this. You are in hell now, aren't you? Well, my fellow prisoner, not for much longer. Just a few seconds more, and I will finally be able to do it. To let go, and set you free.

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