440: Crisis Actors

When I say I went through the door, I mean I went through the door. There was no physical sensation, splinters didn’t pierce my skin, wood pulp didn’t merge with my innards, which was good — you can never be too sure things will go the way you expect them to based on a lifetime of reading comics and watching movies.

My body felt the same, not insubstantial like when I used to phase into the adjacent world, and I could see the door, but it posed no physical obstruction. The door just wasn’t there. Maybe the whole world wasn’t really there, either.

It took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the stairwell where there were no lights. I stopped and looked down at the dozen or so people lounging around in riot gear, like extras waiting in between takes.

These were the people I’d seen running up the stairs to come take me away. Soldiers of the new world order, or the secret police or some other shadowy organisation who acted above the law, and also below the law and sometimes behind the law. 

Some of them were sitting on steps, some leaning against a wall, their batons tucked under an armpit. A couple of them were vaping, which said a lot about how lacking in humanity these people really were. Smelled like a mix of cherry and cinnamon, the depraved scum.

They were taken by surprise to see me come sliding into their lives without bothering to use the door handle. Nobody moved, they just stared at me. 

I began walking down the stairs, treading carefully in between them like we were at some shitty house party where hanging out while getting in everyone else’s way was cool and not all obnoxious. 

A couple of them seemed to be thinking about doing something. Grab me? Hit me? See if they could poke a finger through me?”

“First one to try anything gets their heart pulled out of their chest,” I said very calmly. I felt it would have more impact than screaming and shouting.

I was putting on an act, obviously, but my suspicion was that they had been paid to look the part, not do any actual heavy-lifting. What I was dealing with, as far as I could tell, wasn’t some cult full of true believers, it was more of a front for some dodgy pyramid scheme, hiring any greedy little shit who was too stupid to realise they weren’t being trained to con the mark, they were the mark. 

None of them were part of the inner circle. Nobody I had run into so far was calling the shots. Even Orion I would have placed no higher than middle management. 

Whatever The Council were trying to achieve — and I wasn’t even sure they were truly in charge — it was too important to trust to the hoi polloi.

Hands were moved out of the way and people leaned to the side to let me through without getting touched by me, like every other time I’ve tried to get down a crowded staircase. Although, then it was to avoid catching whatever social disease I was suspected of having.

As I reached the bottom of the first flight, one of the bigger men stood up and blocked my path. He was taller than me, his eyeline above mine, even though I was two steps above him.

“I hope they paid you in advance,” I said, still trusting my smoke and mirrors act would give him pause for thought. “They’re not very good at paying out after you stop being useful to them.”

He had full riot gear, a helmet, padding, boots you could walk through lava with, and a black stick and a shield. It looked pretty impressive, from a terrorising unarmed protesters point of view, but chances were that it was all made in China and would fall apart the first time he got caught in the rain.

His face, what I could see through the cheap plastic visor, had a determined look to it. This was his big chance to get noticed by the higher-ups. Impress the director and maybe he’ll give you a talking part in his next movie. Sure, some dick-sucking might be required, but when was it not?

He swiped at me with his baton. I hadn’t expected him to go full-retard with no thought for the consequences, but I supposed I should have. These people weren’t exactly here because of their stellar abilities to box clever.

The stick hit me in the face, and it fucking hurt. I didn’t fall over, which was a surprise to all of us, but it made my head ring like a bell.

“Holy shit,” was what I said, but it came out, “Hawa ghhi.”

I put my hand on my chin, which was somewhere next to my shoulder, and pushed it back into place. 

Hard men will pop a dislocated joint back in with a grunt, but someone like me wouldn’t normally even be able to touch the area without bursting into tears. But in this case, a pleasant warmth spread across my face and my jaw was working like normal again. 

“What the fuck, dude?” I said, like he’d stepped on my brand new trainers. “That ain’t Falco.”

“Ah, ah, ah,” said the guy sitting on the same step on me, gasping like he was hyperventilating.

I looked down to check I wasn’t standing on his fingers by accident. Wasn’t even touching him.

He pulled off gloves and his helmet —  his hair was grey and his face was wrinkled. 

“Wha… Wha…” He was staring at his liver-spotted hands. “What happened to me?” Even his voice sounded like an old man’s.

“Shit,” I said. “See what you did? Basic law of conservation, you get that, right?” 

The guy who had hit me, who had been too startled by me healing myself to follow up, looked confused.

“The energy it took to heal my face had to come from somewhere,” I explained. “He aged so I could stay healthy. It should have been you, but you took me by surprise and this poor muppet got hit by bad RNG. Maybe I should switch you two.”

I reached out a hand towards my attacker. He stumbled back, tripping and landing on his butt. Strange noises were coming out of his helmet.

“Are you crying?” I said, appalled. “You can’t cry in riot gear. What’s the point of protecting you from tear gas if you’re going to start the waterworks as soon as the scary shit starts? You better man up, mate, it’s going to get a lot more horrific from here on. Boy, did you sign up for the wrong job. Have you considered the marketing department? You can still be a twat on the phone and no one will be able to see what a worthless sack of shit you are in real life.”

There had been no way to know if my powers would work again just because they had a moment ago, but I was doing pretty well so far. Being in constant danger was working out well for me.

I realise it wasn’t fair and I had a massive advantage, but since when did anyone worry about something being unfair unless it was to their personal disadvantage? No one cries handball when it was their hand.

The whole stairwell was whimpering now. These tough guys were starting to realise being in the frontline wasn’t as cool as their recruiters had made it out to be.

It’s kind of astonishing how easy it is for the very rich and extremely powerful to convince the very pleb and incredibly scrub that they too can get a piece of the special cake. 

Help us get rid of the riff-raff, and you can be one of us. Here’s a hat to show you we’re serious.

How dumb do you have to be to think backing up a lying git will get you the thing they promised you?

I know he’s lying to them, but he wouldn’t lie to me.

Maybe not dumb, maybe just desperate and horribly abused as children. 

Anything for a chance to be on the winning team, I guess. Better than no chance.

I don’t think it makes a difference. In the end, I’m convinced the apocalypse will be averted because the software will all bug out and the screws will come loose on the warheads. The level of shit workmanship we rely on these days, how does anyone expect pressing the doomsday button to achieve anything? 

Try again. Press it at the same time as me. No, put your weight on the edge and work your way in towards the middle. Are you sure it’s plugged in?

Sure, some things will blow up and fall off and breakdown. Not really much different to how things go on any other day of the week.

All the end of the world will really achieve is the same as turning your computer off and on again - cache is cleared, the memory leak gets reset, and you get a bit more life out of the battery you were told would last eight hours per charge but only gives two.

The door behind me opened and I heard Jack say, “Don’t touch him.”

The American cavalry, always late.

I kept going, not bothering to look back. Not for any dramatic reason, more because I’d made it clear next time I saw him there’d be trouble, and I didn’t want to have to live up to my threat. If I didn’t see him, I wasn’t technically a liar.

The next flight down led to the door. I pushed it open and found myself back on the office floor. Only, it was almost empty now. Not just of people, but doors, walls, desks, chairs… they had been taken down or taken away.

It was actually quite impressive how quickly they had gone from putting on a show to striking the set. There were still a few people around, a little less business-like in their demeanour, but still hustling to get the place looking like they had never been here.

They stopped when they noticed me, and looked pensively at each other.

The whole thing had been an act. A massive production for my benefit. I was kind of touched. No one had ever gone that far out of their way to fuck me over before, and that was really saying something. A new benchmark had been achieved.

“Carry on,” I said, waving a hand to indicate they should keep on keeping on. I turned to the door that had led me to my meeting with the Council. 

It was unlocked so I quickly stuck my head in. I wouldn’t want to interrupt an important meeting about how to mindfuck me in the future. I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise for myself.

The room was empty. Not just the puppets, the table and chairs were also gone. How had they done it so fast? Did the table come apart? I suppose it helped to have such poor lighting, half the stuff I thought I saw might not have been real, but it was still impressive.

Just because it was all done to gaslight me, doesn’t mean I can’t admire professionals going about their craft.

I headed for the lifts and nodded at the people standing around staring at me. I called the lift and waited awkwardly for it to arrive. It’s these in-between moments where you have nothing to do that remind you what a drag life is. I now had to get a ride back to wherever it was I wanted to go next. Cheng’s place? My place? The police? Just kidding, obviously I wasn’t going to go to the police. Fat lot of good they’d be. 

In a movie, the intrepid hero might go to the press and spread the story so the public would be outraged. Unfortunately, having seen the same movies, the first thing your up and coming psychopath billionaire does is buy up all the papers and media outlets. No free press, no trustworthy police or courts, and most of the public happily drinking the Kool Aid. 

Of course, we never had Kool Aid over here, cheap nasty shit. They tried to hoodwink us with Sunny Delight, went as far as paying supermarkets to put it in the refrigerated section to Jedi mind-trick us into thinking it was fresh and wholesome, even though it was so full of chemicals you could clean old lawn furniture with it. That’s what you have to realise you’re dealing with, people so willing to fuck you over they practically trip over their own dick in the rush to stick it in your arse.

Let’s not forget, the supermarkets accepted the money knowing they were helping to deceive their customers. Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, and I mean the clown from It and the Joker from Batman.

I took another glance around the floor. It looked nothing like the busy corporate enterprise it had been when I arrived. They had expected me to fly off, fooled into believing everything was as about me as a snowflake in his very own private blizzard of self-centredness. 

I’m the hero, I’m special, I deserve all this attention.

Well, I’m not the hero, and these people weren’t busy professionals. They were actors doing an evil job for money, just like the people in the Sunny D ads. 

If I was going to kill anyone, it should be these people, letting down their own for a chance to crawl a little higher on the dung heap. Never mind getting rid of the fat twat at the top, he’d just get replaced by a copy. It was all the people who went along with it, waved banners and pumped their fists in the air.

It’s my time, my turn to get a treat from master, like a good poodle. 

If I wiped out the audience, what would the guy on the stage do then?

“You’re all a bunch of idiots,” I said to the people nervously eyeing me. It wasn’t a clever put-down, I admit, but just how do you convince irrational people to be rational? You can’t convince them with reason and logic, obviously. And appealing to their goodness isn’t going to get you anywhere.

It was enough to make me willing to hit the doomsday button myself. And then hit it again. Then swear at it, and open it up to find the wires all loose. And then pack it up to return it to Amazon, only to find out it already passed the thirty days refund date.

I was being bitter and grouchy. It wasn’t these people’s fault they happened to have been hired by an evil company. It happens to the best of us. They didn’t deserve to be executed for it. It wasn’t like they worked for Facebook.

The lift doors opened and five people stood there, one of whom was Orion. If that was his real name. He could have been an actor, too.

I think the worst people are the ones who believe their cause is so just, so righteous, that it’s okay for them to do really appalling shit to get it done. Not just torture, which is the classic ‘crossing the line because we have no choice’ scenario, I mean the real inhuman shit, because it’s so important to protect your values by totally betraying your values. 

Got to lock up these children in cages, got to tell the grieving parents their dead kids never existed, have to drive a car into people who disagree with your psychotic world view. 

Anything goes when you’re the good guys, even if it means having to cosplay as the bad guys. I mean, no one liked the Gestapo, but you got to admit they got the job done. And wearing Hugo Boss while doing it — who’s going to turn down a perk like that? Free Hugo Boss!

“Hello, Mr Orion,” I said. My voice sounded strange, all thick and sticky, like I’d just drank a glass of milk and now I was channelling the ghost of Alan Rickman. 

Orion took an involuntary step back as I entered the lift. The other four people — three men and a woman, I think, I wasn’t really paying attention — scuttled out and away. The doors closed on the two of us.

“You seem surprised to see me,” I said. My voice was a little less mucus-ridden now. Less Snape, a little more Sheriff of Nottingham.

“Little bit,” said Orion, standing next to me, staring straight ahead like any experienced lift passenger. For all his faults, his elevator etiquette was exemplary.

“I wasn’t feeling very well, so I decided to go home.”

“Oh, nothing serious I hope,” said Orion.

“I feel like everyone I look at seems less than human, just a bag of flesh eager to do whatever it takes to get a bit plumper and more full of bile and hate. Makes me want to drop them off the top of a tall building and watch them splatter on the pavement. But no, nothing serious.”

The mood in the lift had turned a bit chilly.

“Oh,” said Orion.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about Peter, actually.”

“Yes?”

“The truth is, I don’t really know how to beat him. To be honest, I don’t think I can.”

“I’m sure it won’t come to—”

“Instead, I was thinking, what if I make it so there’s no one here when he finds a way to come back? An empty, dead planet where he can do what he wants. It just seems much more achievable.”

“Don’t you think that would be a little unfair on the people who have nothing to do with this fight?” said Orion, a little more straight in the spine. Mr Orion, global guardian.

“I do, actually, I really do think that. But it seems that kind of thinking is very 2016. Here in the future, you’ve got to go a little more extreme if you want to keep things fair and balanced for yourself, unfair and unbalanced for everyone else. But you’re right, just because other people are willing to do terrible things to get what they want, doesn’t mean I should. That would make me no better than them, instead of who I really am, which is much, much worse. Can’t let standards slip.”

The doors opened into the underground carpark. There were at least a dozen men waiting for us, big fuckers, including Jack. How had he got here before me? Rappelled down the outside of the building?

“Hey, guys.” I turned to face Orion so we could finish our conversation. “So, anyway, I had this other idea. Why stop at bringing Peter here? Why not bring over some of the others? I’m not exactly the most social person but Cheng knows a lot of people. Well, I say people, I don’t know if that’s the correct term. Do you think calling them savage bloodthirsty demons is politically incorrect?”

“You want to bring monsters here?”

“Please, let’s not judge them just because they come from a different culture. And let’s face it, the weebs would absolutely love it.”

Next two chapters are up now on Patreon.

Afterword from Mooderino
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