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Author Topic: Character Study of the Week: Xander Barajas  (Read 1356 times)

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Character Study of the Week: Xander Barajas
« on: 12 April 2016, 14:07:26 »
Character Study of the Week: Xander Barajas
Who: Xander Barajas
What: Leftenant, 8th Federated Commonwealth Regimental Combat Team
When: ?? ?? ?? (Presumably circa 3030s) - 3063
Weapon of Choice: 8R Falconer

Looking back there are many causes for the Federated Commonwealth Civil War. Within the setting they range from cultural, political, personal to just plain “it was easier than not having a Civil War”, from a real world perspective it was the natural progression of events, the plot threading together. Once the FedCom was formed it was inevitable that it fall to pieces in a fight, since this is a game about fighting and it’s a dramatic plot twist to turn allies into enemies.

In both cases there needs to be a trigger, not so much a reason as a person or event that is the pebble knocking down the entire mountainside. While one can point to the Solaris Riots or Arthur Steiner-Davions death as being triggers, one cultural, the other political, for starting the war, the point at which the shooting starts and renders those two moot happens on Kathil, and it is at the hands of one Leftenant Xander Barajas.

A rather cold, calculating lance commander in the 8th FedCom RCT Xander is supposed to be a member of a corps that symbolises the unity of the Steiner and Davion states, a fact that is lost on pretty much everyone within the setting, mostly because they get very busy very quickly.

Xander is a member of a fervently Loyalist, that is Katrina/Katherine, supporting unit, though he himself is largely apolitical, his loyalty in fact seems to be non-existent to irrelevant, he’s there to fight, he doesn’t much care who. That he’ll fight for Katherine against Victor is incidental, had he been assigned to the Davion Guards it could have easily been the other way around.

In short he’s a thug. A bully, a sociopath if not a restrained psychopath. And not the flamboyant type that shows up so often in fiction. Xander has just one wish, and that is to fight and kill. The latter part separates him from most warriors and soldiers, they’re there to fight, achieve victory and due to the job description don’t hesitate to kill though occasionally regret having to do so.

The ‘Mech he’s in exemplifies this, the 8R Falconer is a brute force design, a decapitator and an eye-gouger are its two main weapons, backed up with a nice array of medium lasers. With enough armour and jump capacity it’s not subtle, it’s not clever, and it’s a find a range that works for you against this foe and hammer away kind of machine. And from what we see of him that’s exactly how Xander uses it.

For you see, Xander apparently joined the military just for the thrill of ending human life. And not the joyous thrill, it’s almost as if he’s a twisted gamer of sorts racking up unspoken points in his head. This is what motivates him to kill one of his own lancemates in his final battle, stealing a kill, getting in the way.

So he’s not a nice person, not even a terribly likable person, but it has to be acknowledged that Xander is not characterised to any great depth. We only have a few scenes with him, all in the cockpit, all under combat situations. Ok, barely, whatever instincts he possesses that tipped him off to the ambush kicked in made that situation a combat situation, and while it was he who triggered the first formal shot of the Civil War (in as much as there was one) it was not a conscious act. Strange as it may seem for a morally reprehensible character the carnage his act causes came about as a result of his doing his duty as a soldier.

You may well argue that he got lucky, that he could have been very wrong, and yes, he could have, while instincts informed his action the thuggish nature triggered the action. That could be said of any character in that situation, not just Xander.

But back to the lack of depth, in all honesty as the trigger man for the Civil War (the novel is called Flashpoint for a reason) we don’t necessarily want him to be a fully rich and fleshed out character.

There is value in that, certainly, one of the more interesting bits of retrospective characterisation I’ve found in Battletech is finding out that the sniper who unknowingly killed Minoru Kurita during the First Succession War, inadvertently escalating things and causing the Kentares Massacre wound up committing suicide over the whole mess. Retroactive but it turns the once nameless sniper into more of a human being.

The trouble is this is Battletech, at the time at least it was pulp sci-fi migrating towards military sci-fi and was somewhat bloated with major, event changing characters like Victor, Phelan, Vlad, Katherine/Katrina, Sun-Tzu, Andrew Redburn and on, and on, and on, and on, and on.

The Civil War added a few more, Archer Christifiori, Adam Steiner and Felix Blucher being most prominent. But the bloat is there and the novel is concerned with one incident and the people closest to it.

In Flashpoint by the time Xander acts there are already a half dozen significant characters on the field, all being fleshed out in some way, two of which are more traditional antagonists than Xander. So there is already a considerable list of people agonising over what is unfolding from various perspectives, Barajas represents a departure and a chance to show the variation in motives, some of which aren’t particularly deep.

If anything he is a gun, a tool, a simple weapon that does its simple weapon thing. As much as we may enjoy depth there really isn’t any need for it here. A simple character for a simple task. Xander will not angst over his actions or the fallout, he doesn’t have any selfish political motivations, nor does he have a high moral stake in taking sides.

Bizarrely, for a cold blooded killer, he’s the perfect neutrally motivated trigger for the Civil War.

Katherine, Katrina, Victor, George, Tancred, he doesn’t care as long as he gets to shoot someone.

It’s chilling but again fairly neutral as far as motives for firing the first ‘hot’ shot of the Civil War goes.

That’s on the personal level. By dint of his unit assignment Xander also characterises his faction, the Loyalists, as the Katherine supporting faction becomes known as.

Cold blooded killers, war starters, basically Xander helps paint them as the bad guys.

Arguably this is what the Loyalists would be simply because they’re Katherine’s faction, by the start of The Civil War she has been unashamedly cast as a villain. It takes considerable effort in novels and sourcebooks to balance that out at the soldier level.

Not Xander, the triggerman, of course. Whoever fires the first shot of this mess can’t be good, can’t even be neutral, they have to be someone you can unashamedly dislike for starting a nasty, nasty war that you’ll play out for fun.

Sorry, but that’s how reader and player emotions work. Starting a fight is bad, but this is a war game, so finishing a fight is good.

That’s a simplistic overview, most players will either not think about it to that depth or play up the Loyalist side because it’s fun or interesting to explore these things just as much as it is so for the Allied side.

From a fiction perspective it can be very important. Pulp sci-fi requires good guys and bad guys to be very clearly defined.

Xander could just as easily have been a neutral character, or at least someone who agonised over taking that shot, realising and understanding what he was doing for better or worse.

That however is a far richer character than the Civil War novels required. If anything it would need Xander to be a protagonist, and the Civil War came just as Battletech was migrating from pulp sci-fi trappings to military sci-fi, meaning that certain conventions still needed to be obeyed.

So this means the trigger man is someone we can’t like, is certainly not nice, and nominally Katherine aligned.

And ultimately isn’t it better to have the first shot fired by someone who has no interest in the outcome if the Civil War? All the better to mark the event as one of sad inevitability.