Description: Fei Rutherford, scion of the Rutherford Conglomerate and director of its medical branch, has announced the successful treatment of a form of leukemia utilizing Violet Systems' Chi Battery technology. But the United Nations has condemned Violet Systems, this year's host of the King of Fighters tournament, for theft and misuse of this technology and demanded that Japan arrest Lee Chaolan and turn him over to an international court. Lee Chaolan and Japan have rejected these demands, throwing international relations into turmoil. Alma Towazu, a covert agent of the Sacred Order of Holy Knights, a secret Darkstalker-policing organization under the direction of the United Nations, manages to arrange a meeting with Fei Rutherford thanks to Alma's reputation as an acclaimed artist and recently-victorious King of Fighters competitor. Both the Sacred Order and Alma's King of Fighters teammates, Ryu Hayabusa and Kasumi, suspect that Violet Systems is toying with eldritch horrors to acquire its Chi Battery technology, so Alma, believing that Fei must be a good person, chooses to approach him directly and attempt to find out what he knows. What follows is a fateful meeting between two men of conviction and character. It remains to be seen whether, in the end, their values will complement one another or explosively collide.
Closing his eyes, Fei could hear the bustle of the office outside the door. Usually, on his visits to Southtown to receive regular earnings reports from the Rutherford Medical Branch and have meetings with those under him in charge of running the day-to-day affairs of the company while he was at the European or American branches the office was relatively quiet as there were not many inquries to be had of a company that simply made advances in medical technology. However, today the constant ringing of phones and voices of people were audible enough to be heard through the ornate, solid oak of the door to his personal office.
Of course, he had the recent press conference to thank for that. Having heard tell of the up and coming technology, the young man had negotiated a deal for a consistent supply before it was publicly announced in order to assure himself a maximum amount of time for the medical researchers to do their work. And with all the media publicity of the active disagreements between Japan and the UN currently, Fei had timed the announcement of the medical release just in time to come riding into the fray like a white knight to save Lee Chaolan with one thing that made it difficult for a governing body like the UN to fight publicly:
Every government and organization had some sort of shadow to them. While the scion of the Rutherford Conglomerate tried to run as clean a company as he could, he was not so naive as to assume he could be completely clean. The UN was no different, he knew. They would use whatever kind of unconventional warfare methods they could to covertly press a situation to their advantage. However, they made a mistake by making a public announcement and pushing themselves into trying to gain public support. However, the public was not swayed by technical terms like Intellectual Property or the like. They were swayed by Morality. And by providing Lee Chaolan with the moral high ground in the public sphere, Fei had managed to gain a debt owed by a powerful man on top of achieving his original goal of trying to eradicate genetic disease. All-in-all, the young man had to say that it was more than just a win--it was a windfall.
Steepling his hands as he rested his chin and mouth on it, Fei continued to look out over Southtown from the floor to ceiling windows in his office as he sat behind his desk a plush, dark leather chair, his back to the desk and the door. There was something about looking out over this particular cityscape that he personally enjoyed. And he had done enough that he would allow himself to take this moment to enjoy the victory.
Letting the moment pass, he turned around in the chair and pressed a button on the phone receiver to call his secretary on the speaker-phone.
~Mitsuko, please send in Mr. Towazu,~ he stated firmly in fluent Japanese. ~He has waited long enough.~
Part of power was in perception. Even though Alma Towazu was a famous artist, there was no way that Fei would admit him to the meeting immediately. Making someone wait was a privilege of power necessary to establish an unequal sense of status. Glancing at the expensive art pieces on the walls of his expansive office, the young man turned his back to his desk and door once again, steepled his hands, and looked out over the visage of Southtown in the midday sun. At the knocking from the door, he simply said one word in English.
If Alma, seated quietly in the magnate's elegant waiting room, realizes that he is the intended target of a power move, he does not show it. A bruise remains visible on his right jaw, marring the young painter's elfin beauty, the vestige of his victorious King of Fighters match against Senna only days ago. Whatever other injuries he has sustained are hidden by his sleek white jumper and charcoal gray slacks. And whatever he may be thinking about the wait is hidden by his composed, almost demure, expression.
In fact, for all the appearance of meditative mildness, the psychic is focused sharply on the task at hand. He is here in his role as a famous artist, with no particular pretext. A wealthy and cultured man such as Fei elevates his status yet further, and perhaps finds diversion, with meetings with talents like Alma. But Alma's true mission is significant, and it must remain hidden. He is here at the behest of the Sacred Order of the Holy Knights, for whom he has been an agent for some time, doing battle with Darkstalkers who would upset the harmony of the mortal world and, equally, with humans who would exploit the magical and supernatural for ill-gotten gain. The Order suspects that Violet Systems employs the latter and, worst case scenario, the former as well.
Alma is here to find out what Fei Rutherford knows.
When Mitsuko receives Fei's call and graciously informs Alma that the executive will see him now, he smiles warmly and proceeds sedately to the door, still lost in thought. By all appearances, Fei is a wise and generous man with a noble goal, one entirely understandable considering his history. Alma, though he has been compelled to live a double life since joining the Order, is not naturally given to subterfuge. Leaving truths unsaid is possible, but lying does not become him. So he has pursued his mission from the Order in the only manner he knows how: a direct approach.
He knocks on the door. Upon hearing the invitation in English, Alma enters, closing the door behind him, and approaches Fei's desk, stopping a few meters away until the Rutherford scion turns from the window to acknowledge him.
"Mr. Rutherford," he says in English, following Fei's lead. "Thank you for taking the time to meet with me. You must be particularly busy." He smiles, his eyes straying to the artwork on the walls. "A fine collection." The statement is simple, even platitudinous, but a perceptive person will see Alma's eyes soften, his composure visage slackening as he takes them in. He will straighten momentarily, his smile brightening as he turns back, but the moment offers a hint of insight into Alma's earnest, almost naive, sensitivity to sincere self-expression.
"To have both good taste and a good heart is truly admirable."
As Alma approached the desk, the chair turned and Fei rose from his seat as was demanded by good etiquette. While there was an unequal level of power, there were still rules that must be obeyed, and the smoothness in which the young man moved through them spoke of the manner in which he was raised. Smiling warmly in response to Alma's words, he waved off the compliment with a small chuckle.
"That's not the case, Mr. Towazu," he stated with a chuckle that touched his eyes and his speech. "While I do appreciate fine art, most other businessmen do not. Unfortunately, what they appreciate is the price of said objects--it displays power. These are not my favorite ones, but I tried to have ones on display here that fit both the quality of the art and the expense. After all, it would be unfortunate if I had to look at something garish all day simply by virtue of the fact that it was expensive." Reaching out to shake Alma's hand, the fine cloth of Fei's white collared shirt rustled with the movement. He gestured to one of the comfortable chairs in front of his desk with an upturned hand before continuing. "Please, have a seat." After which, he would continue to stay standing until Alma seated himself. That was just good manners, after all.
The chairs in front of the desk were comfortable, but not more comfortable than the chair in which Fei himself sat. Another subtle telling of the unequal sense of power between host and guest. However, manners were the thing that held the host beholden to the guest.
On cursory glance, the office itself was expansive. Many different pieces of art from different eras lined the walls, and there were even two pedestals in different corners of the room that held exquisite marble sculptures. In the center of the room was a table surrounded by two wooden sofas and several comfortable chairs with a glass cart that displayed several decanters prominently on its shelves. The fact that Fei had chosen to converse with Alma at his desk instead of the table that was usually reserved for guests with pleasantries was subtle but telling that the young man knew that Alma was here for something other than to simply exchange conversation. The request had come at too close to the press release to have been anything else.
Fei's crystal blue eyes were warm, but they held a shrewdness and intelligence in their depths that spoke that the young man was not one with which to be dealt with lightly. Currently, he was matching Alma's warmth and pleasantries as an admirable host, but he was subtly analyzing the situation to see just what the artist's agenda really was.
"What brings you here today, Mr. Towazu?"
Alma nods as he shakes Fei's hand. "It is unfortunate that such display of power should be necessary." But all fighters of sound mind know that a show of strength has its virtuous use: the prevention of conflict. "Yet I appreciate that, even with those instrumental ends, you make a space for beauty. Thank you," he adds as he seats himself, calmly folding his hands in his lap.
Alma is a empath, attuned to auras, able to perceive fluctuating emotions as the 'color' to his second sight. He is not, however, experienced in politics. Some of Fei's subtle gestures are lost on Alma -- or, at least, though Alma is aware of the play of social energy between them, he is not aware that Fei is deliberately shaping it. Nevertheless, because of that intuitive grasp of the complex tension beneath their warm exchange, he recognizes the significance of their being seated at Fei's desk and not at the table.
They both know that, one way or another, this is business.
"I was deeply moved by your announcement," Alma replies honestly, inclining his head. "I have said in the past," in interviews with which Fei may be familiar, "that my brush is guided by the emotional tenor of those around me." This is at least a plausible claim from a student of Rose, though not everyone believes it. "Their feelings shape what I see. I respond to them by seeking to show what, feeling as they do, would awaken them to the light of this world, its possibilities, its significance, its hope." For Alma, the world is full of light that only he can see; through art, he persuades others of its presence.
"You," he continues, "have given hope to the most vulnerable among us. This is not only just and righteous. It is beautiful. I came here, first, to say that."
Alma smiles again, but his eyes do not waver from Fei's gaze, and when the smile fades, the calm seriousness remains.
"But I must confess that I fear the bold defiance of Violet Systems," he then says. "As a citizen of Japan and the personal beneficiary of great generosity from the international community as an artist, I am concerned by the possible consequences of their actions. Mr. Rutherford, you are surely aware that reliance on their Chi Battery technology may implicate you in their agenda, and you are a good man. Therefore--"
"Will you tell me what you know of these Chi Batteries? Why have the United Nations declared them part of a criminal enterprise? I do not believe you would knowingly involve yourself in such a scheme. So--"
He chooses his words carefully.
"Can you lay my worries to rest?"
It seemed that Fei's initial assumption had been correct: Alma was here to talk about the recent press conferences and their effect on international affairs. It made sense as well considering the two of them and both of their standings in the international community. Neither of them were tied to Japan alone but traveled between different areas of the world. Current events were something that would shape their livelihood. Alma's concerns were warranted, and one of the reasons that Fei had not gone so far as to publicly call out the United Nations themselves. As long as the UN were only targeting Lee Chaolan it was likely that the scion of the Rutherford Conglomerate could subtly support a few of Chaolan's interests that coincided with his own and use Violet Systems's leader as a shield to take the brunt of the UN's wrath. It was a bit of a tightrope, but it was one that he was willing to walk.
"Thank you for your warm words, Mr. Towazu," Fei replied, his eyebrows drawing up to showed that he was being truly honest. "Ever since my own genetic disorder nearly took my life as a child, the facts of how terrifying the world can be to a young person with no future in sight has been something like looking beyond the veil of death--one can never unsee it." There was a weariness to the young man's manner as he leaned back in his chair, as if the thought of it was somehow taxing to both his mind and his body. Glancing at one of the paintings, his crystal blue eyes softened from their hardness as they glossed over. "The only thing that saved me was an encounter in China with a Kung Fu master. And encounter which only occurred by chance after my family paid a rather heavy amount of resources searching for a cure."
After a few moments of further reminiscing, his eyes returned to life as his gaze moved from the painting to rest back on Alma. "I am fortunate, Mr. Towazu. I am one of the fortunate ones who lived thanks to martial arts. However, there are a plethora of children out there in the world who are not as fortunate. They do not have access to the resources simply to be able to do what we take for granted: simply live another day."
Sitting back upright, Fei folded his hands on the rich, mahogany desk before him before closing his eyes and shaking his head. "I can honestly say that the United Nations is not as clean in this endeavor as they have been portraying themselves to be in the news," he stated with a weary voice. "Anything more than that, I simply cannot share with you due to the confidentiality of the material involved. I do hope you understand my position in the matter, Mr. Towazu. I can see that you are a good man who has valid concerns. However, in this matter, my hands are tied."
This time, Fei was the one who paused before opening his eyes, their crystal blue poolrs focused on Alma's face.
"But, I will answer your question with another question," he said. "There are six thousand new cases of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in the United States every year and a thousand new cases in the United Kingdom every year. If we totaled the number of children affected by this disease worldwide, it would not be exaggerating to say it easily approaches one hundred thousand new cases. A fifth of that many children die yearly due to this disease." The knuckles of Fei's hands whitened slightly as his folded hands tightened their grip. His voice was heavy. "Twenty thousand children who will not see the next day that so many of us take for granted. And that number is growing."
The young man's blue eyes eyes simply looked at Alma's own as he continued. "Who among us could look those children in the eyes and say that we were not willing to pay the cost necessary for their lives? Having been one of them, I certainly cannot. I am willing to pave the way for their survival and other children who are afflicted by disease. And, as a fellow person who understands the beauty of the human soul through art, do you not feel the same?"
Alma is rendered speechless by Fei's response. He had chosen his words carefully before, but words now abandon him. For Alma is sensitive to the good and the beautiful, and Fei's words and manner are both. Moreover, though Alma never dwells on his own exceptional qualities, it is rare that he encounters someone with conviction and charisma to rival his own. He is moved by justice of Fei's cause, by the eloquence of Fei's speech, and by their kinship in ability. There are unquestionably great differences between the idiosyncratic Alma and the aristocratic Fei. But Fei's cultivation only serves to emphasize his sincerity.
So Alma simply listens.
There is no doubt in Alma's mind that Fei means what he says, and there is no doubt, looking at Alma, that the empath is deeply touched. His fey features tremble, his eyes soft. There is no performance of sympathy here. Fei's passion is irresistable, and Alma does not try to resist: he lets these emotions flow through him. For Alma trusts his heart.
At last his lips part to speak.
Alma trusts that if, when swept away on such an inspired current, he is dragged toward the hidden rocks of moral hazard--
"What is that cost?"
He will still sense it.
"What cost are you paying?"
His words are soft, almost a whisper. They are the furthest thing from cold or accusatory. But they display their own absolute conviction, one that remains unswayed: that there are some prices not worth paying no matter the goal. Alma does not know what price has been paid for the Chi Batteries. It may be that, in the end, his -- and his allies, and his Order's -- fears are unfounded. It may be that nothing but good is being done.
But finding that out is why he is here.
"The goodness of your ends is unquestionable," he continues, "but I am -- so many of us are -- ignorant of the means by which you are achieving them, means which have met with international opprobrium. Even if the United Nations is at fault, that alone would not exonerate any wrongs committed by others." Two wrongs, if there are two wrongs, would not make a right.
He pauses, knitting his brow, evidently vexed. This is not an easy side of a debate to be on. Alma isn't very used to this. And yet, he finds himself unable to back down.
"Am I so inflexible," he poses to himself aloud, not entirely rhetorically, "that I would never tolerate committing an evil in the name of a greater good?"
At this, his expression settles, and he is able to regard Fei again with eyes unclouded.
"Perhaps I could," he concludes, "if it were a known evil."
One can attempt, at least, to take responsibility.
"But I am speaking hypothetically," he then says, tone shifting, "because so little is known of the Chi Batteries. Believe me, Mr. Rutherford, when I say I wish to be your ally and defend your actions. But I must learn the truth before I may in good conscience do so. If you are bound to secrecy--"
Alma spreads his hands in appeal.
"--might you reveal where I should seek the truth myself?"
Will Fei see the reason in this offer? Will the magnate consider playing a double game? Or will Alma's refusal to take the plight of these sick children as worth any potential sacrifice whatsoever only infuriate Fei? How useful is Alma to Fei?
And how similar, really, are their values?
"You put me in a difficult position here, Mr. Towazu," the Rutherford heir replied, his right hand coming free of where it had been folded with his left on the desk. It rose to rub his brow in a gesture that could only mean that he was having difficulty being pulled from two different directions. "What you ask is for me to break a trade negotiation agreement made with Lee Chaolan of Violet Systems, betraying the trust of another with actual legal ramifications in order to tell you how the chi batteries work. That is not my proprietary technology. That is in possession of Violet Systems and likely their parent corporation: G-Corporation. If I let information about that slip here, I could lose at the very least this Rutherford Medical Branch in lawsuits and with it the fate of the very children I am trying to save."
With a sigh, he shook his head. "No, I'm afraid I cannot tell you what you sought to begin with," he continued, his blue eyes as deep as the ocean as they made contact with Alma's once again. It seemed that during the course of the conversation, he had understood what the artist's desire was from the meeting. However, it seemed that Fei did not hold it against him. "However, I can give you something different that you may not have originally known about this situation that may answer your question in a different way."
"You asked about the cost that I am paying," the young man said, staring off at another painting: an old rendition of St. Luke the Evangelist. The patron saint of doctors. "I am not alone in paying costs for this dream." Refocusing his eyes on Alma, he continued. "Have you seen the news lately? Lee Chaolan being called out by the UN? I don't suppose you know the specifics of why?"
Shaking his head, Fei sat back in his office chair. "Not many do. All they have gathered is that the UN is castigating him for doing something wrong. But, what precisely? He stole something from the UN development. And he has used this technology here to in civics. So, the Chi Batteries were not created here. They were perfected here. The origin of their technology is in the UN itself."
It was then that Fei dropped a bombshell that Alma probably did not expect.
"And that technology was a weapon."
Sighing, probably at the folly of Man, Fei tapped his finger on the mahogany desk to emphasize his point. "So, this technology was going to be used either way, though the UN was going to use it as a weapon. They have been pushing to castigate Lee Chaolan because now that the proverbial cat is out of the bag, they cannot use their technology in a covert manner. Lee saw what they were planning to do with it and decided to use it to power civics and healthcare instead of weapons that were designed to maim and kill. And that is why he sought to find me and enlist my aid in that matter."
Taking the finger that he had used to emphasize his statement on the mahogany table, Fei used it to tap his chin thoughtfully for a few moments before continuing.
"Everything I have told you are things I know about the background that are not public knowledge but are not covered under Non-Disclosure Agreements. I cannot cross that particular boundary to tell you precisely how the technology works. What I /can/ tell you is that I would not willingly participate in something that was unethical. I have had personal assurances that the source of what I am using for medical research has not resulted in deaths or injuries to other people. After all, what would be the point in medical breakthroughs then? But, if you want to find out the extent of the technology's origins, I suggest you look at the UN itself. If you would like to know more about our version, Violet Systems is the one who operates most of the information behind the Chi Batteries. Those are where you could look if you so chose."
Nodding, he gave Alma a warm smile. "I can tell you, however, that I stand by the ethics of our technology."
Alma knew what he was asking of Fei. He did not know what would come of asking. And by the looks of him, he did not expect the reply.
The psychic remains calm and composed initially, and he does not react when Fei begins by laying out what is at stake. Alma assumed that at the very least helping him would involve compromising an agreement with Violet Systems, so none of this is surprising. This renders the information to come all the more shocking by comparison.
The Sacred Order of the Holy Knight is a secret organization under the umbrella of the United Nations, but it is not the only one. Alma is not high-ranking in the Order, having maintained his independence in some respects, but even he knows that power struggles occur between the different covert factions; he has even heard it said that it is these factions that manipulate and control the United Nations and not the reverse. Though Alma belongs to one of these factions and plumbs the underworld of the supernatural, he is not given to conspiracy theories. And yet--
"I believe you."
Alma's expression is grim and free of doubt.
"Thank you for telling me this," he says solemnly, his eyes straying from Fei's briefly and unfocusing, revealing how his mind is racing to process the implications of this information. "I--" He blinks and looks back to Fei, hesitating. "I apologize if I implied that you might compromise your ethical principles. What you are accomplishing is truly good. I must simply see the truth of this technology for myself." Though it seems that the truth will not be simple.
He then hesitates again, clearly a bit overwhelmed. "I will look to the United Nations for answers first." It may seem a little strange why a private citizen like Alma, beneficiary of international largesse though he may be, feels the need to act personally on this knowledge. But Alma seems hurried for the first time, and it does not seem that he will stay to explain himself further. He rises a little abruptly from the chair before Fei's desk. "If finding and revealing the truth is to make a difference, it must be done before the international isolation of Japan grows any more severe. Please pardon my haste. You've been very generous with your time, Mr. Rutherford, and with your knowledge."
Despite his rush, he pauses, one last time, and gazes steadily at Fei before smiling slightly, softly.
"I hope that when I know the truth, I am able to stand beside you as an ally and a friend. It has been an honor."
Alma cannot promise that they will join forces. It may be that what he finds will drive he and Fei apart. But he can hope, truly and deeply, that what he finds brings them together.
It would be too great a waste to make a man of such quality his opponent.
While Fei does not outwardly show his surprise at the artist's actions, a note is filed away in the corner of his mind that Alma is more than he seems. After all, no matter how famous an artist is, it is doubtful that they would have sway enough at the UN to be able to find information such as what he related so easily. It would have made far more sense to him if the disciple of Rose had asked him to find out what the UN was doing on his behalf. But, he had said he was going to do it for himself. Which meant that there was likely some sort of connection between Alma and the UN. A connection that was possible to stress or exploit at some point later in time. But, right now there was no point. It became information tucked away in the ever-expanding data banks of the Rutherford heir's mind.
"I hope so as well," Fei replied honestly. There was no point in making enemies for no reason. Especially one who actually believed in the work he was doing. "If there is anything that I can do with my influence to ease your search, please do let me know, Mr. Towazu." As Alma stood, Fei followed suit as was polite. Manners dictated that he would at least see the artist to the door.
"There are difficult times ahead for all. The only thing I can hope for is that we do the best we can."
With that, he walked with the artist to the door that led back out into the office proper to be met by the receptionist to see Alma the rest of the way to the building entrance. It seemed the times were starting to move forward. Who knew where these matters would lead?
Log created on 16:20:10 09/07/2017 by Alma, and last modified on 23:58:39 09/11/2017.