Jun. 13th, 2006 06:31 pm
londo_mollari: (Default)
We Centauri are a deeply misunderstood race, as I have on occasion mentioned before. One of the most commonly held prejudices against us is the idea that we do not value loyalty and are only capable of betrayal.

"Now why would you believe that, hm?" I asked Mr. Garibaldi during a conversation in the early days, when such idle chats still took place between us.

"Are you kidding me?" he asked back. "Londo, each time you mention something of your planet's history, it's always this Emperor getting assassinated, those noble houses stabbing each other in the back, and when it's not politics, it's family life. I mean, man, you told me yourself your wives were the reason you liked this job. Because it keeps you far away from them. And you said that was typical for a Centauri marriage, right?"

"Humans," I said. "You are all so endearingly naive. I must say, it was your good fortune to encounter us first when you ventured into the galaxy. Another race would have exploited you without shame, yes?"

"Londo, you guys tried to con us into believing we were a long lost colony of yours and had to pay taxes to your Emperor."

I raised my glass to him. "That, my friend, is exactly what I mean. We were trying to protect and educate you. What better loyalty can you show a stranger?"

He said I was hopeless, but he paid my drink nonetheless, and I tried to explain the Centauri concept of loyalty to him, as my father, long ago, explained it to me. First and above all, one's loyalty should be to the Centauri Republic, to the Centauri People. Then to the Emperor. Then to one's House. Then to whichever allegiances one forms or inherits. Now, we Centauri, while infinitely more civilized than certain races I could mention, never claimed to be perfect, or geniuses. So often the order of loyalties gets confused; these kind of misunderstanding tend to be solved in a lethal fashion more often than not, but they do get solved.

"Hm," said Mr. Garibaldi. "I'm all for patriotism, but there's got to be more. There was a 20th century writer who was friends with a spy, and later when he was asked whether he'd have outed the spy had he known, he said "If I have to choose between betraying my friend or my country, I hope I'd have the guts to betray my country."

"A human standpoint if ever I heard one," I commented, and we spoke of other things.

Years later, I often thought back to this conversation. Both on occasions when I had to solve misunderstandings about the hierarchy of loyalties, such as in the case of the late Lord Refa, who, shall we say, needed incentive to come to the same conclusion as I had done about the wisdom, or rather, the lack of same, in continuing our relationship with Mr. Morden's allies, and on other occasions, when I had to wonder whether I had somehow managed to confuse the right order of loyalties myself. It was not Refa, after all, who had first asked Mr. Morden for help. It was not Refa at all. When the sky over the Centauri Prime darkened with ships that blotted out the sun and were screaming of death and destruction, I looked up and knew it was me.

Now I will never deny that I had ambitions. But I did and do believe, still, that if they were subservient to my patriotism. What I have done, I did for the Centauri first and foremost. Yet even so, they almost brought ruin to my people, and even if this was thwarted, I know there is still a reckoning waiting for me.

But here is the oddest circumstance: what made me change my course was not a conflict of loyalties. As I said, Centauri Prime comes first, and thus there was not even a question of priorities when the late Emperor Cartagia announced his intention to turn it into his inauguration pyre. No, what changed things was a discovery so new and breathtaking that I am still reeling from it, a year later. You see, nobody, not even the humans, ever told me that there could be loyalty between enemies.

I do not remember what I thought when Cartagia presented me with G'Kar in chains. But I do remember what I felt. And what I felt was that this man, who will be my death one day, whom I had hated dearly and had dearer fought, this man who had once turned my mind inside out, this man whose people were broken in no small measure due to my own efforts, should not be in chains. That he should not be tortured, which was something the Emperor proceeded to do all too soon. And that he should not die. That it was wrong for all of this to happen.

I offered him a pact then, which he took, for the sake of his people. I made a promise. And he, who had even on the best of days never uttered the word "Centauri" without scorn, did not once doubt that I would keep it.

After my world had narrowly avoided destruction, I ended up as the most powerful man on the planet, more or less. And the first thing I did was to honour my promise to him. I cannot really explain why. There had been no witness, after all, and he was in no position to do anything to pressure me. But it never occured to me not to do what I had told him I would.

So here I am, contemplating loyalties again, and where they lead to. I thought I had seen it all, and yet it seems I know nothing. For I cannot tell you where it will lead to, this newest, strangest loyalty of all. Perhaps this is why it can only exist between enemies.


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