436: First World Problems

My plan to overthrow the totally fairly elected current President of America seemed to be becoming a reality. I say plan, what I mean is vague daydream with no real chance of happening, just like all my other wishful thinking.

If I did go back to my fantasy realm and make it possible for Peter to come home — a home he had left almost a century ago and had no real familiarity with — then he stood a good chance of becoming the next commander in chief. Not just of the US, of the whole bloody world.

Perhaps that would be a good thing. Some people need a firm hand to get them to do what must be done. Mandy would never have settled down with a demon and revelled in the joys of motherhood if I hadn’t threatened to set her on fire.

Forcing people to do things they don’t want to do really speeds things up. Fascism is a very effective way to hit your delivery dates, the same way slavery is extremely cost-effective and brings in your monumental vanity projects well under budget.

If you look back at the great advances in human development, you can see very clearly that the key to progress was for one group of people to put their humanity aside, their morals in one of those savings accounts you can’t access without giving thirty days notice, and their ethics with their watch and wallet stuffed into the toe of their shoe while they build sandcastles on the beach with their kids.

You can achieve a lot if you strip away the rules of polite society and just hold a gun to people’s heads. It doesn’t even have to be a gun, it can be an iPhone or a pair of running shoes.

“It will be very simple,” said Orion. “The doorway we have set up will bring you to a place called Monsterland. I’m sure the name is more frightening than the place itself.”

“No,” I said. “It’s about right.”

“Ah, alright then. All we need is for you to guide our team, led by Jack, there, across to the city of Fen-garrad.” He rolled the Rs and said it in a Spanish accent for some reason. “And that’s it. What would it take to make you amenable to such a simple request? Sky’s the limit.”

His tone was light and casual, no pressure, no threats. Perhaps losing his brother to Cheng’s appetite had made him an affable villain. There’s no reason evil people can’t be reasonable about their plans for global domination.

“I plan to destroy the world with my doomsday device, is next Thursday good for you?”

Orion was basically offering me anything I could dream of to go with his boys on a rescue mission. A quick jaunt over to the world of myth and legend and back before teatime. And no matter how absurd my demands, I was pretty sure he would be able to deliver. He’d put two million in my account in less than a day, any sort of material request — a car, a plane, my own private island — wouldn’t be too difficult to arrange over the phone.

Of course, you could afford to pay exorbitant prices if the recipient wasn’t going to be coming back to claim his reward. Buy high, sell low, like really low, like six feet under. I couldn’t see them just leaving me in peace after they got what they wanted.

How could they just let me go off and do as I pleased after Peter came back? For that matter, how could they let Cheng? No matter how much either of us insisted we had no interest in their affairs, there was no way they would just accept us at our word. They had to be working on some kind of backup plan to get shot of the both of us.

Staying in Flatland would probably be safest, but even then, would Peter just abandon the place? No, I couldn’t see him doing that either. He would want control of both places.

There was another option, though.

“It’s a very tempting offer,” I said, “but I can’t really think of anything I want at the moment. I’m a very hard person to shop for, even when I’m the one doing the shopping. You’ll have to give me some time to think it over.”

I could have just said, “No,” outright, but people who are committed to a cause rarely accept no as an answer. But maybe, you can use to string them along for a bit.

“There’s no need to decide now,” said Orion. “You can choose your reward afterwards. My credit is always good.”

A guy who didn’t know how to take maybe for an answer.

“Your credit may be good,” I said, “but my ability to trust people isn’t. I expect to be paid up front, no refunds. And I frequently don’t provide value for money.”

“Okay,” said Orion, “I see how it is. That’s fine. How long do you need to work out what you want?”

Now there was a question. Twenty years and counting was the answer.

“I have no idea, but let’s say a couple of days. Give you guys a chance to sharpen your knives and iron your bandanas.”

None of the tough guys looked amused. To their credit, they didn’t look particularly annoyed, either. It was only our first time meeting, tough. Not to flatter myself, but I like to think I wear people down over time. My first impression is usually a non-impression — no one ever remembers who I am. I’m more of an acquired distaste.

“Just so you know,” said the bearded guy I’d pegged as the leader, “we’re quite looking forward to go. This travelling between worlds may be no big deal to you, but it’s quite a fascinating prospect for the rest of us. I’m not sure you appreciate how exciting it is to be in your shoes.”

Ah, the joy of not knowing what the fuck you’re talking about. When they say ignorance is bliss, they ain’t fucking kidding.

“I’m not sure… sorry, what was your name again?”

“Jack.”

“Yes, that’s right. Jack, I’m not sure you appreciate how horrible it is over there. No flushing toilets and the wifi is patchy at best. Also, monsters that literally shit out rabbits — don’t ask, it isn’t pretty. The important thing to understand is that none of you will come back alive.”

“You came back alive,” said a wiry chap who looked like he knew the correct way to set fire to a village. “If you can, we got a pretty good shot, I reckon.”

I couldn’t fault his logic. If someone as useless in a fight as me had managed to survive this death trap, how could it not be a walk in the park?

“I made it out because I always ran away from danger, which is the opposite of what you want me to do. I didn’t try to take anyone’s stuff, never forced myself on any virgins, didn’t pull any swords out of any stones and claim I was their new king. You lot, on the other hand, want to bum rush the place and grab everything of value like you’re doing another circuit through the National Museum of Iraq. It isn’t going to be unarmed brown people with wonky teeth, you know? These fuckers don’t have to blow themselves up to make a point, they’ll just set their dragons on you.”

I was doing my best to paint a vivid picture.

“Wow,” said the guy who I’d healed. “Sounds amazing. I always wanted to travel to new worlds.”

“Then you should have become an astronaut,” I said. “Join the space program.”

“No point,” said the big guy at the back of the group. “NASA’s just a front for laundering money. I know the guy who runs it, does my taxes for me. Haven’t paid a cent in years. He’s good — real good.”

A bunch of romantics, all I needed. They probably thought Peter was going to usher in a new era of stability and magic. I think most people would be okay with it, as long as they weren’t the ones in the gulags. Obviously, there would be those who complained and moaned about their loss of freedom to do this or that, the right to choose your own god or sexual partner or whatever. And those people would be locked up for their own protection. Protection from what? From what the authorities would do to them if they didn’t shut the fuck up and get into their cell.

Then again, if Peter could make the world a better place, why not the current administration? Sure, a few kids get locked up in cages where they die from lack of care and malnutrition, but kids die all the time from silly accidents — jumping off a roof, being unvaccinated, drone strike at a wedding.

“You want to bring back Peter,” I said, “make him the next president and take over the world using magic.”

“No,” said Orion. “I don’t think Uncle Peter would be interested in such a high profile role. We have someone in mind already, someone who most voters will find attractive and familiar. Trustworthy.”

It made sense that Peter would prefer to work in the background. That was how he operated in Flatland, pulling the strings and avoiding the public eye. Whoever they put in the big chair, they wouldn’t be the one calling the shots. They never are.

“I assure you,” said Orion, “the world will be a much better place once we have the ability to unify everyone in a common cause. There are just too many powerful individuals at the moment, all of whom think they are best suited to lead, and willing to put all their resources into obstructing anyone else who gets even slightly ahead.”

“You’re saying spite is holding back the human race?” I said. “Nobody wants anyone else to win, even if they have to ruin it for everyone to make sure?”

“Very much so,” said Orion. “And understandably. Most of the time, the goal of the people who get an opportunity to do something momentous ends up being trivial and ineffectual. A very wealthy industrialist once decided it would be fun to go to the moon, so we did. He had no ambition beyond that, so nothing more came of it. What we need is a long term plan with a point to it.”

“And what plan is that?” I asked. “Invade another world and start a trans-dimensional empire?” Orion didn’t say anything in response. Nailed it first try? “There’s no oil there, no unobtanium, either. But there are people like him.” I pointed at Cheng. “And they will fuck you up.”

“We don’t want to invade anyone,” said Orion. “We want to improve things here. We can’t do that with our current level of technology, but we can if we obtain the secrets that the universe has kept from us all this time. What you just did when you healed Samson’s eye, imagine the transformation to the world if that kind of ability was more widespread.”

“I imagine,” I said, “the people who had the ability would use it to bully and extort those who didn’t. And anyone who tried to offer it freely, undercutting the ability of the profiteers to get what they wanted, would end up dead in a ditch, cause of death: accident ditch drowning.”

Orion nodded and his hands flitted about like he was encouraging me to continue. “That is certainly a possible outcome if left unregulated. But that’s why we need strong leadership, not populism that leads to petty squabbling. A firm guiding hand will prevent any of that kind of nonsense. We will work together, all creeds and colours, with a single purpose.”

“Which is?” I asked.

“Improved well-being for all.” He smiled beatifically. It was almost like he meant it.

My suspicious nature told me to not believe a word coming out of his mouth.

“You don’t believe me,” said Orion. “I understand. Why should you? But with your unique powers, there is little anyone can do to you and few who could stop you if you chose to prevent our actions. You don’t even have anyone close to you we might hold hostage.”

He sounded very certain about that last point, like he’d checked.

“You can’t make any of us less eager to go, Colin,” said Jack. “You just can’t. But I’ll give you my word, you guide us over there, and me and these men will put your safety ahead of our own. Now, look at me, look me in the eyes. I ain’t bullshitting you, kid. We won’t let you get hurt and we won’t hurt you, even if someone orders us to. I swear it on the flag of the United States of America. May not mean much to you, but it means everything to me.”

“You got my word.”

“Mine, too.”

They all swore on the stars and stripes that they wouldn’t fuck me over. It was ridiculous, but I kind of believe them. There was an excitement in their eyes, a real desire to travel to an alien world and see it for themselves.

I understood, I really did. In another life, I might have been just as excited by the idea. Personally, I’ve always been desperate for some kind of evidence there was more to life than this pile of garbage we call home. Aliens, ghosts, fairies… something. And I’d found it. Proof positive. And not for one moment had I enjoyed it. Well, smoking pond weed with frogmen was kind of cool.

These mercenaries, hired killers, they wanted to see something magical, something out of a dream. They wanted to talk to fairies and fly with dragons. They were in for a big surprise.

Seeing my healing powers had probably only made them more keen. I’d made believers of them. These hard men, these shadowy agents of the dark side, they weren’t much more than dreamy kids wishing they could do magic like Gandalf and the gay one from the boarding school.

Their stupid earnestness made me kind of believed them. At least, I believed they were being sincere, but as we all know by now, what people are convinced they’ll do when shit hits the fan is very different to what they actually do when shit hits the fan. Fan-shitting is a key element people don’t take into account during these declarations of good intent. I, on the other hand, make it my primary focus.

“It’s very nice of you to offer to babysit me over there but you seem to have misunderstood the situation, you arrogant bunch of fucks. I’d be the one who ended up having to save you. Yes, I know. Everyone thinks the same — at least I’ll do better than him. There’s the baseline I can only go up from. And you know where they are now? Dead. They’re all dead. And you lot can’t even cope with him.” I pointed at Cheng. “I rate him at about five out of ten. No offence.”

Cheng nodded, accepting the apology with good grace.

“Wait till you meet his dad and his uncles. Wait till you meet Peter and he fucks you over like he does everyone. You’re acting like schoolgirls going to their first boyband concert, secretly thinking you might get to suck on some Korean dick. AIDS is what you’ll get, and herpes and pregnant. No offence,” I said to Mandy.

“Wait, what?” said Mandy. “Why are you—”

“There’s nothing you can offer me that will make me go back with you, because you’ll be a liability. You protect me? Ha! Who’s going to protect you?”

I may have got a bit overheated. It just got a bit much to have people treat me like the weak link after all this time. I guess I had forgotten that was how I was seen, last pick in any team game.

“He’s right,” said Cheng. “None of you are a match for me, and yet Colin was able to overcome my armies without even raising a weapon. You will all die, except for him.” He was smiling. “I almost want to go back myself to see it.”

“No,” said Mandy, now really pissed off. “You aren’t going anywhere. If Colin wants to get these poor men killed, he can do it on his own.”

Suddenly, everyone was taking a dump on Team America, who were looking a bit miffed. It wasn’t really fair, but it was still fun.

“Then who would you want to take with you,” said Orion. “What will it take to convince you we are serious and only want to retrieve my uncle? Or are you so stubborn, you can’t see past your own certainty?”

“No, I’m not stubborn. You want me to go, seriously, introduce me to the people who tell you what to do. I’m curious who’s really in charge.”

Orion looked at me a little warily. “You wish to meet with the Council of Four.”

“Er, what now?” I said. Had to be a coincidence.

“No one has met with them directly,” said Orion.

“Because they only appear as giant wooden puppets?” I said as a joke no one would get (like most of my jokes).

“Yes,” said Orion. “How did you know that?”

Next two chapters are up now on Patreon.

Afterword from Mooderino
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