The Threat Of Peace


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Scene Title The Threat of Peace
Synopsis At a library Ygraine and MacKenzie have their first encounter and discuss among other things the politics of finding bogeymen.
Date August 14, 2008


Though the days of the quiet library are over, the Queens Borough Library isn't especially noisy either. A few restless teenagers are pointing and laughing at something in a book they've just removed from the shelf, but most of the other patrons in the hard science stacks are quiet. MacKenzie is no exception. Standing between two columns of books, she looks at call numbers while tracing her finger across the spines of books with titles like 'Bully for Brontosaurus', hopefully drawing nearer to the work she's looking for.

A shoulder propped against the wall, one foot crossed in front of the other, a somewhat unusually-clad young woman stands at the now rather fashionable "Evolutionary Biology" section. She's frowning rather dubiously at a book open in her hands, while another volume - blue, with a black and white photograph on the back cover - has been tucked under an armpit.

MacKenzie continues to scan through the books until she notices that the numbers have gotten too high. She drags her finger the other way and looks again. Nope, didn't miss it. She then scans the books on either side, but the book doesn't appear to have been misshelved — not anywhere nearby, at least. She catches a glimpse of the younger woman and does a double take then turns her head while keeping her eye on the woman or, rather, the book she has in her arms.

Mostly stifling a snort, Ygraine snaps shut the book in her hands, slotting it firmly back into place - before belatedly noticing MacKenzie's scrutiny. She pauses, expression turning sheepish, and offers a rather awkward smile. "Hi. Am I in your way?"

MacKenzie returns Ygraine's awkward smile with one of her own. "Oh no," says the older woman. "I was just looking for a book, but it's not —" She stops to pull her finger away from the place where her book would be shelved. "It's not here. You snooze, you lose." Her smile widens.

Ygraine cocks her head, then somewhat nervously shifts her grip to retrieve the book from beneath her arm, holding it up so that the "Activating Evolution" title can be seen on the front. "Is this it? I wanted to see if they had the new edition in. The one with the commentaries…"

MacKenzie swallows and says, "Yes, that is it." She then raises her right hand to scratch the back of her head and asks, "There's a new edition? Who wrote the commentary?"

"It was something I read in the in-flight magazine on my way over here", confesses Ygraine, "so I'm not sure how much faith to put in the reporting. But there's certainly been a whole mini-industry sparked off by it, and he has a son out there, and wasn't he meant to have continued his research long after the first edition was published?" The Briton shrugs, then holds out the book to MacKenzie.

MacKenzie nods and says, "Yes, I've read about his research being continued." With a smile she adds, "I guess even the airplane rags can't be wrong all the time." When she's presented with the book, she says, "You don't want it?"

Ygraine chuckles ruefully. "It's an older edition. I was having a look at some of the other books, but what passes for "science"…. It's hard to believe that some of these people get published at all."

[MacKenzie accepts the book and thanks Ygraine for it.] MacKenzie smiles and says, "I'm a bit of a science dork myself, so I'm wondering, What did you find that was so amusing?"

Again looking sheepish, Ygraine shrugs slowly. "It's partly a question of culture. In the UK, Creationism doesn't have a hope of being taken for a "hard science". Here…." She gestures rather dismissively to the book she returned to the shelf. "Even New York has it in stock. And, naturally, there seem to be big debates over whether Evolved are human at all, angels, demons, in need of excorcism, the next stage in God's Great Plan…."

MacKenzie shakes her head and says, "Yes, it's very unscientific and very sad. Of course this isn't the first time people with a lot of ink and little brains have speculated about where a group of people came from." Tapping a book by Stephen Jay Gould, "This guy said it all a long time ago, but some people never learn."

[Ygraine says,] "It's all suitable for debate - and interesting questions are raised. But… the assumption that everything can be interpreted wholly accurately through a single lens is a problem from which both sides of the debate here seem to suffer. It's no great surprise that Suresh's work emerged entirely outside the squabbles of the people now making their money writing about him and pretending to understand what he "really" discovered…."

MacKenzie looks contemplative and finally nods. Then she asks, "But if next to no one is conducting scientific research in the spirit of Dr. Suresh, what hope do I — I mean, people who are truly interested in evolutionary biology have of finding the answers they need?"

Ygraine quirks a wry smile. "Hence my interest in finding out what any commentaries might contain, before risking buying them. I fear that I might have to take the risk of buying without first reading. Even the US produces a lot of good work, and the occasional bit of brilliance. And since there _is_ now money to be made in trying to develop the Doctor's work, I'd hazard a guess that the attention of some of the wealthy research institutes'll be turning towards it…"

MacKenzie asks, "But are people who are drawn to the money going to be inspired to provide the most scientifically sound answers?"
ooc Sorry about the delay. I was struggling to find the right words.

Ygraine cocks her head, then chuckles. "Crack how this works, and given the general assumption among many scientists and lay-people that genetic manipulation is just around the corner…. Wouldn't finding a trigger to activate Suresh's evolutionary episodes be worth an absolute fortune? Or, more basically, doesn't the Linderman Act require the government to pay anyone who succeeds in developing a reliable test to identify those it wants to register?"

MacKenzie nods and says, "Yes, of course. Companies will want to patent a test. But that will be the end of the research — quite a shame for people who demand so much more."

Ygraine shakes her head. "Oh, I'd fully expect research to continue. It's a new frontier, and the prospect of discovering how to make soldiers fly, or to manufacture doctors, or whatever else is theoretically possible…. That'll draw research quite apart from the rich and powerful wanting to "improve" themselves and their offspring."

"I can't disagree with that," MacKenzie says. "But even then, will everyone who wants answers get them?"

"Do they ever?", asks Ygraine with another swift twitch of her lips. "There are reasons why universal theories that provide "definitive" solutions are so appealing to so many people. Uncertainty is terrifying to so many people, and so much time is put into teaching children that there is always a "right answer" to any question."

Smiling, Mackenzie says, "I can't disagree with that either. How did someone so young get to have so much wisdom?"

Ygraine blinks, then flushes rapidly, ducking her chin. "Ha. I suspect that I might be a little older than you think. But… the short version would be that I'm a nerd, who studied across disciplines. And benefited from an educational system that encouraged diversity. Not to mention a superb lecturer in philosophy during my post-grad work. Ahhh… sorry. I'm babbling."

Managing to refocus upon MacKenzie rather than the books over her shoulder, she thrusts out one hand. "Ygraine."

MacKenzie says, "A good mentor can make all the difference." Then, accepting the hand offered to her, she says, "Ygraine? I'm MacKenzie."

Ygraine offers another bashful little smile as she shakes MacKenzie's hand. "A pleasure to meet you. And I hope you can forgive my babbling. In part, I'm just an embittered student of the social sciences and arts."

MacKenzie laughs and says, "Don't apologize. I want to be able to babble on about science too. And the social sciences — learning about why people do what they do is part of what makes my job so interesting."

Ygraine lifts a brow. "You're not a psychologist, or something, are you?", she asks quickly.

"Oh, no," she says. "You won't find me asking you to sit on a couch and talk about your father. At my workplace I'm in the marketing department, so I have to know a thing or two about how to win friends and influence people."

Ygraine relaxes a touch, expression relieved. "Ah! Good. A different sort of evil", she quips. "Me, I've had some training in trying to stop international wars. The techniques are worryingly similar."

MacKenzie laughs at the mention of the word 'evil.' Upon hearing Ygraine's comments, she says, "I would like to think that if someone — like me — can so easily convince people to go to tanning salons right after they've been exposed to nuclear fallout, that it wouldn't be so hard to convince people to stop killing each other."

Ygraine shrugs once more, smile turning somewhat bitter. "There's money in tanning salons… and not much in peace. War and preparations for war are immensely profitable, especially in the US. For far too many of those with influence, peace threatens their profits and power just as much as the aftermath of a nuclear blast threatens the local population…"

MacKenzie nods gravely. She says, "And if we're not inciting an international conflict, we're turning against our own."

"It's a sad truism that while the majority of Americans have no need for a grand bogeyman of which to be scared, the great majority of American regimes feel the need for one. Even such a self-consciously woolly-minded liberal as Clinton ardently promoted some bogeymen in his second stint in power…." Ygraine pauses, then looks guilty. "Sorry. Politics really shouldn't be discussed on a first meeting, let alone by a foreigner…"

MacKenzie says, "Don't think your critique of American policy will offend me just because I was born here. My ancestors didn't come over on a commercial airliner, you know. A lot has changed since then, but a lot still needs to change, no matter how much Clinton liked to say he felt my pain."

Ygraine chuckles softly, gently shaking her head. "Even if I fluked my way into babbling at someone who happens not to be offended, it was still… gauche to bring up the topic in the first place. I do apologise."

MacKenzie says, "Tsk tsk, I'll let it slide this time," a wide smile on her face all the while.

Offering another rather guilty shrug, Ygraine ducks her head. "Thank you. This country _is_ strange, in so many ways. The combinations of liberalism, good practice, open-mindedness, steadfast courage, and bloody-minded bigotry…. I'm from the quaint, patronising, overly-sophisticated "mother country", I know, but - both academically and personally - I keep being startled, astonished and dismayed in turn."

MacKenzie says, "You're right. It is strange here. There's a lot of goodness and a lot of diversity — especially here in Queens. But there are also a lot of people trying to create the exact thing white folk who left England said they wanted to get away from. I feel like a foreigner myself a great deal of the time."

Ygraine chuckles and shrugs once more. "Isn't it the case that the areas of the US where the majority of people are "local" are decreasing all the time? And New York… heck. In the Civil War it was even proposed that it secede and set itself up as an independent merchant republic. There were bigger riots against black emancipation here than in the South. It's been getting flooded with waves of immigrants for a couple of centuries, and every new set of arrivals are looked down on by those who came before."

MacKenzie nods and says, "It's true. I'm not even a local really. Despite Brooklyn's geographical proximity, my new neighborhood might as well be in another country. I was accepted pretty well, but I'm not sure others would be. Once again, it's a sad situation."

Ygraine sighs, expression turning sympathetic. "I was on Broadway when it happened", she murmurs after an awkward pause. "The government - the British government - rounded up as many citizens as it could and flew them out within the first week, so I can't claim to have seen what happened here after that… but I saw what had to be dealt with. Reminded me of old monochrome pictures from the Second World War, but it was real around me…. It must have taken courage to stay here and try to rebuild"

MacKenzie says, "I moved to Queens before the explosion and under happier circumstances. But I was close too, and, yes, it did seem like something out of a movie. I don't know how much courage it took me to stay here; this is where my family and everything I know is. But I'd say it took a lot of courage to come here."

Ygraine blinks in surprise, then offers another awkward laugh and shakes her head. "I knew it'd be better than… when last I saw it. And I felt I had to. I was just criticising American administrations for building up bogeymen. It wouldn't be good for me to build one up myself, would it? Especially not when so many other people will be doing so…."

"I suppose so," MacKenzie says. "Even so, it's pretty amazing that you're still here. Personally I think we've yet to see the worst of the fallout."

Ygraine winces sharply. "I hope not", she murmurs after another awkward pause. "I really hope not…. Ummmm…. So. Do you fancy a coffee, or something? We should probably stop talking in a library, at a guess…."

MacKenzie smiles and says, "You know, I would like that." She looks down at her book before looking at Ygraine again and asks, "Are you done looking?"

Ygraine glances at the shelf once more, then purses her lips and nods. "Yeah. I think I'll have to go delving in a good bookshop and see what I can turn up. Makes me miss having access to the copyright library in Edinburgh, but I'm sure I'll survive…."

MacKenzie nods and asks, "Would you mind waiting while I check this out? I feel like I'm long overdue in reading this book."

Ygraine laughs and nods. "Sure, feel free. It's not as brilliant as some people claim - if it were, it'd have made its impact the first time around. But it's definitely worth a look. I'll see you out front…."

MacKenzie smiles and says, "Thank you. I won't be long."

Still looking somewhat sheepish, Ygraine nods agreement once more, and moves to stride past her new acquaintance, disappearing through the exit a few moments later….

MacKenzie smiles back at Ygraine while she passes and makes her way to the check-out counter.

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