Life is not like a box of chocolate, it’s more like a packet of razor blades. You know exactly what you’re going to get, and you know it’s going to hurt.
Jenny was a smart girl. On top of which, she knew what she wanted, which is when smart people become a problem.
She was also very pretty — well, it depended which side of her you were stood on, but let’s not get superficial about it.
The thing I liked most about her (okay, top three) was that she never asked me for anything. She might suggest, she might hint, she might gently manipulate, but that was all. And the reason she didn’t ask outright was because — and I think we can all learn something from this — she was waiting until the time was right so she could drop the hammer in the most effective manner possible.
It’s a strong play. Undersell all the time, give good value, make very little profit yourself, until… the big pay-off comes around.
Then you’ve got a lot of goodwill to work with. Benefit of the doubt is on our side. No one has a bad thing to say about you and they’ve never had to feel obligated to do what you want. Which makes them so much more obligated now.
It’s not just the strong play, it’s also a beautiful play. It takes patience and discipline. All the times you could have cashed in your chips and got your way but didn’t. It’s not easy.
Most people cave early. They think if they can get you to do what they want once, then they’ve got you for life. Sometimes it even works out that way, but only if your victim is an idiot. And if your target audience is idiots, well, no one wins any medals in the shallow end. Although you can still drown if you aren’t careful.
It might sound like I resented Jenny calling in the favour I didn’t owe her, but that’s not true. She knew as well as I did that once the ball was rolling, how things played out would pretty much shape the rest of our relationship. Once you say it out loud, there’s no going back. One person says I love you and the other says it back or it’s over. No one cares if you need more time or are going at your own pace.
You can’t put the genie back in the bottle, which is a terrible analogy since there are plenty of stories where the genie does get put back in its bottle. Through deceit, trickery and clever wordplay. Lying, I believe is the technical term.
This was where Jenny had decided to make her stand, in Fengarad on a planet we didn’t know the name of, in a galaxy far, far away. If it turned out badly, our whole relationship would unravel. I was assuming our relationship actually meant something to her but perhaps it never had and it had all been a very long con. If that were true, then I think I would be very sad and also very, very impressed. Not that it wouldn’t hurt, but when someone goes that far out of their way to fuck you over, there’s no doubting you were someone special in their life.
“What do you want me to do?” I asked Jenny.
“I’m going to put the giant to sleep,” said Jenny. “I want you to make sure no one gets to me while I’m doing it.”
“You just want me to watch your back?” It didn’t sound like a very hard job — no ridiculous risk, no putting myself in harm’s way while everyone else did little to no work. It was a brave new world she was asking me to enter. “But if you can put the giant to sleep, why not just work your magic on the men controlling him?”
“I’m going to try that as well,” said Jenny, “but it looks like they came prepared. I don’t know how they did it, but if they know how to control a giant, chances are they’ll have some way to stop me reaching them.”
“So you’re going to try to take them out but you expect to fail?”
“Yes. Then I’ll have a go at the giant. They may have a way of stopping that, too, but they might just try to take me out directly.”
“Which is where you want me to step in.”
“Right.” Jenny gave me a smile, the kind you give a pet when it manages to do a trick correctly. What a clever boy.
Her thinking was sound. Her smartness made me proud of myself. That was another reason I liked her so much — she made me think I had really good taste in women. Yes, it is always about me.
I couldn’t really fault her logic. She would try to affect the men with her power to affect emotions. If that worked, great. But they most likely had a way to counter it. Maybe a pill they’d been given or tin foil hats, who could say? She would then try to put the giant out of commission.
It was possible they had a way to protect the giant, but he was a big boy and they’d need a very big foil hat. It would definitely be easier to take out Jenny at that point. She was a lot smaller and easier to shoot in the head. That was where I could play the stand-up boyfriend and protect her from bullets.
I liked it. My role as support player was a nice change of pace. As it happens, my spirit animal is an armchair, so this whole taking a backseat approach was one that greatly appealed to me.
“What if nothing you do works?” I asked her. She seemed to have thought this through but this was the one area amateurs never considered — the exit strategy. They were always too busy focusing on success. Winners focused on getting out alive.
“That’s where Flossie comes in,” said Jenny. “The giants big but it’s a bit slow. And they’ll be busy with the city. We can fly out of here and regroup.”
Flossie nodded her consent. Jenny nodded back.
Could I have picked a better girl? I mean, I didn’t actually pick her, she was the one who decided we were going to be a couple, but I was pretty happy with her choice. Well done me.
While I was having this pleasant interaction with my girlfriend, things weren’t going any better for the combined forces of the dead and the fae. The giant was stomping his way towards the city wall, which he would be able to climb over like it was a garden gate, with little to no interference.
The dead were stumbling around aimlessly, bumping into each other and falling over. Which was in keeping with the stereotypical undead mode of getting about, but these particular mobile corpses were usually as agile as anyone.
The fairies in the air weren’t faring much better. They rose up, got hit by a blast of sonic waves, and went tumbling down again. Maurice was trying his best to remain airborne but whatever else he had planned, it didn’t seem to be working. He had the ability to warp reality but all of the powers we had acquired here had one thing in common — they required focus and concentration.
Our American attackers had somehow realised this and brought along the perfect brain-scrambler to counter it.
I’m big on proclaiming the ineptness of most people. Even when you have someone who’s competent and professional, they will have enough clueless twats surrounding them to bring the average way down. But this team of soldiers and scientists had nailed it on their first attempt.
They were performing exactly as they needed to and the results spoke for themselves. I didn’t like it.
Jenny was ready to wipe the smiles off their faces, which I fully supported. I’m not the type of guy who feels emasculated by an ambitious female. I have so many other reasons to feel emasculated, eager beaver girls doesn’t even make my top ten.
In fact, I prefer a girl who doesn’t need the same chances in life as boys. You don’t make seventy cents on the dollar if you pay yourself.
That might sound flippant — not everyone wants to start from scratch, and why should half the population get a better deal than the other half? Fair enough.
But just because the system is set against you doesn’t mean you have to set your mood to match.
The point being Star Wars. The first one. Not the prequels, they were rubbish. Not as bad as the latest ones, but it’s close. And even the second and third ones weren’t so great. One was half a movie and the other was muppets in space.
The thing that really stands out about the first one was Leia. A princess. One in need of rescuing. Nothing particularly revolutionary about that. But when Luke and Han do find her on the Death Star, she isn’t grateful at all. She’s kind of a pain. She needs help, but she’s not about to suck anyone’s dick to get it.
For a female movie character she was way ahead of her time. So far ahead, we still haven’t caught up, and it’s getting on for fifty years.
That kind of female empowerment, the type that powers itself, is the kind I admire and support.
“No,” I said.
“No what?” said Jenny. “You aren’t going to do it?”
“No, you aren’t going to do it.”
“Because I forbid it.”
“Funny. Why really?”
“Something’s off. These guys weren’t this good back home. I don’t think they suddenly hit their stride once they got here. And the whole giant thing is very suspect. We’re not seeing the true picture.”
“So, what do we do?” said Claire. “Nothing? Run away like you usually do?”
“That does sound like a good idea,” I said. “I am both lazy and a coward, so your suggestion appeals to me on several levels.”
“I’m staying,” said Jenny. “I can try.”
“No, you can’t.”
Jenny frowned, or at least half her face did. “Are you going to start telling me what to do now? Bit late for that, isn’t it?”
Her defiant tone made me smile. I’d never put her in a position where she needed to defy me before. It was interesting to see what that looked like. I wondered if I could get her to do what I said if I really put the effort into it.
Lucky for her, effort was my least favourite of the seven deadly sins (my version is slightly different from the official seven — gluttony and greed? Splitting hairs, aren’t we?).
“You’re going to be a good girl and stay here and do nothing,” I said to Jenny, “while I go see what’s really going on here.”
“We don’t need your help,” said the Queen. “Reinforcements are here.”
A swarm of fairies appeared on the screen. The boys on the giant produced more loudspeakers. The fairies instantly went crashing to the ground.
“NO!” wailed the Queen. “I will—”
“You also do nothing,” I said to her. The Queen glared at me. “Don’t make me show you why Joshaya failed so hard you had to lock him up.”
She closed her mouth and continued glaring.
Jenny’s frown softened. “Are you trying to impress me by being all manly and forceful?”
“Is it working?”
“Little bit.” The way she looked at me suggested it was more than a little bit.
I exited my body before I started blushing, which would ruin the air of machismo I had established. I wasn’t going to go charging in and save the day or anything, but I was curious about what the new arrivals were doing and how they were doing it.
The moment I was floated up and out of the palace, I noticed the change.
There were vines everywhere, as usual, but they were falling apart, disintegrating in front of my eyes. While everyone was frozen in place, huge vines were crumbling and falling to the ground around them, turning into dust and disappearing.
It wasn’t clear how they were doing it but it was clearly an effective weapon.
As someone who used these vines to get an unfair advantage over everyone else, this weapon would also affect me. That wasn’t good. But how could I fight it? I couldn’t make vines myself. But I did know someone who could.
I returned to my body and entered my mind. Little-Me was watching Empire Strikes Back.
“This is the best one,” he said.
“Shut the fuck up,” I suggested as I walked past him. A moment later I was in the Void. I now had my own backdoor for quick entry (not a euphemism).
Joshaya was staring at me like he knew I’d come back.
“No,” he said without preamble. “Whatever it is, no.”
“Didn’t you say you’d grant me a wish?”
“No. That was Peter.”
“Fine, I’ll make a deal with you,” I said.
“A deal.” Joshaya scoffed at the idea. “And what are you offering in return? What have you got that I could possibly want?”
He had a point. What did I have that anyone would want? “I’ll grant you a wish.”
Joshaya looked confused. “You can’t grant wishes.”
“Only because I’ve never tried,” I said.
Joshaya seemed to be considering my proposal. Or maybe he was trying to think of a way to get rid of me.
“Genie’s wish or monkey’s paw?” he said. Always nice to know someone’s been paying attention.
“Neither. I’ll genuinely try to give you what you want.”
“Millions might perish,” he said.
I shrugged. “They usually do.”
“And what is it you want from me?”
“I want you to raise the dead,” I said.
“They’re already up and about,” he pointed out.
“Not them. I mean the really dead dead. The ancient ones. The Elfs.”
Next two chapters are up now on Patreon (give or take an hour)Afterword from Mooderino