There was a lot of churning in the water. Some screams, some shouts, and then silence.
You might have noticed I’d killed a lot of people of late. Was I turning into some kind of psychopathic monster? It wasn’t like I was suffering from great remorse or guilt because of the lives I had taken so casually.
People often say you should never negotiate with terrorists. Logically it makes sense. You’re setting up a precedent that will only encourage others to use the same tactics to get what they want.
But the truth is those same people do negotiate with terrorists. They always do. Because the kids on the video look scared, because opinion polls demand it, because it’s affecting share prices. It doesn’t matter why, extortion is a very effective tool. Especially against other extortionists.
You negotiate with them because you’re the same as them. You would use the same tactics in their place. If you have the upper hand, you complain about the inhumanity of violence and call for peace because you want things to stay as they are. It’s not so far-fetched to imagine young Swedish men strapping on explosives and jumping into a crowded bus with a cry of “Ragnarok!” under the right conditions.
You would make a deal with terrorists. You would break under torture. You would let others suffer so you don’t have to.
How do I know? The same way I know if you bought a lottery ticket, you wouldn’t win. Someone would, they always do, but not you.
If you bought a ticket and asked if I’d be willing to bet my life on you not winning, I would take that bet. That’s a good bet. The odds are hugely in my favour, and hugely against you. That’s the kind of gamble you should take. It’s the only kind you should take.
Betting in a casino, on the other hand, is foolish. The odds are stacked against you, which means you can’t come out on top. The house always wins.
Some people hit the jackpot, I know. They win the lottery. They break the bank. I’m not denying it can happen. But not to you.
I know there’s a pull inside of you that wants to believe it could be you. And it could. But it won’t be.
And when I say you, I mean me.
I was surrounded by dead people. Mostly the very old and the very young. I could have saved some of them. It would have cost me, but in the movie version, where I’m much better looking and my personality defects are harder to understand since all the female actors end up sleeping with me (on and off screen), I would have saved them, even if it meant dying in the process. Because even cannibal children deserve to live…
No, they fucking don’t.
Our guy that got poisoned had been affected immediately, and then suffered slowly. That’s the way the poison worked. Thanks to Damicar being a top chef, he’d managed to make it so the islanders were slow to be affected, and then died rapidly. They didn’t suffer much. Not as much as we would have at gas mark five.
Only the fit and healthy would have resisted, and therefore had to endure the excruciating pain of feeling their insides melt. What I did might have been a horrendous act, but once you get beyond that, it was handled in a very reasonable manner, even if I do say so myself.
It wasn’t that I did to them what they would have done to me, it was that I did it much better. Of the two options, mine was clearly the superior choice, you know, if we had a vote.
I’m not trying to rationalise my actions because they were already rational. The problem with coming up with an evil plan is you never stop to consider if the other side are also working on something evil.
You know you’re up to no good. You’re the bad guys, so the other team must be the good guys. Therefore, they’ll be playing by the rules. Suckers!
Well, that’s not always the case. You might come up with an ingenious plan to rob a bank, with a disguise so brilliant no one will recognise you, but that doesn’t take into account a bank manager who would love to kidnap and torture someone to death (because he’s a banker, he probably enjoys that sort of thing) except people are so easily identifiable these days. And then you walk in...
You can always find more evil in the world. And more evil means better evil. Greater quantity invariably leads to greater quality.
“What do we do with them?” asked Captain Somya. He had watched it all unfold with hardly any reaction at all. I liked having him and his crew around. They made me feel relatively normal.
“Leave them,” I said. “We can take care of the bodies later. I want to go back to the village first. We still need a way off this island.”
The captain nodded. The rest of the men didn’t seem to be too upset by the carnage I’d wrought. Not even Damicar, although I’d cut him free of every human connection he had, so he wasn’t feeling much of anything.
“What happened to you?” I asked. “What made you put your hand up.” I still didn’t know how he’d been controlled. There was a high chance whatever had done it was still at large, and could affect someone else.
“I don’t know,” said Damicar. He was much more serious than he was usually. He seemed calm, though. “I felt like I was a doll, I didn’t have control of any part of me.”
It was hard not to think of Mrs Somya when he mentioned feeling like a doll. She was the doll-maker. Was she involved in this? It wasn’t obvious how, since she’d come here with us, but that didn’t mean she was what she appeared to be.
Or it could be another of the many misdirections people had used against me. It was beginning to really irritate me that Maurice had established this as my big weakness. Once I sorted this mess out, I planned to put all my efforts into finding a way to do away with all the mind-fucks.
We left the cove through the tunnel and returned to the village. There was a chance there were still some people here, so we searched the place thoroughly.
The huts were all in good nick, and had beds and chairs and all sorts of useful items. The sailors set about gathering anything they thought they could use, and piled them up in the middle of the village.
There was one large hut with lots of meat in it. That one was boarded up. We’d set it on fire when we left.
A more interesting hut contained sweet-smelling powders. It smelled like a flower shop inside a candy store, which was very welcome after the abattoir next door. Damicar was very interested, going through the various pots and bowls, sniffing and tasting with a dab of his finger.
“Anything useful?” I asked him.
“Possibly. Some medicinal herbs I recognise. Some of these others… Give me a little time.” He had his notebook out. It reminded me of Maurice, which was both a fond memory and a terrible one. Like most of my memories.
While everyone sorted themselves out, choosing their accommodation and settling in, I wandered down to the shrine with a small escort of Captain Somya’s men. They weren’t attached to me the way the other sailors were, but they were a safer choice, I felt. No one could take control of them. Other than Captain Somya. His mother. Possibly Joshaya. Okay, they weren’t perfect, but they were still the best I had to go with.
I still didn’t know why the islanders had been free of vines, but if there was a reason for it, I would rather keep the tradition going.
The priestess was another of my suspects for worst person on this island (I currently had myself in the number three position, but there was still plenty of time for me to make a late run for the top spot). She wasn’t someone I felt I could trust. That didn’t mean she was part of what had happened earlier — the islanders had eaten her, too — but she was pro-cannibalism, so she was hardly in a position to complain.
What I wanted to know was why she was in the state she was in, and exactly where was she?
My personal guard waited outside as I went inside the shrine. The skeleton was sitting on the floor. I picked it up and tossed it in the corner. I felt it was only required to respect the dead if they respected you.
Nothing happened. No ghosts attacked. You might think there was no reason to think they would. That would have been your mistake. Ghost attacks happen when you least expect them, so the less likely, the more likely. That’s the level of mind-fuck I was dealing with every day.
Ghosts would have actually been fine. I don’t mind them. What you have to remember about ghosts is that beneath it all, they’re just sore losers. They were defeated. Now they’re back to moan about it. It’s just bad manners. Don’t shake your bloody chains at me, shake my hand and say, well done, the better man won.
“Richina?” I said once I’d left my body. “Hello?”
“You returned,” she responded.
“Yes. The islanders are all dead. I killed them.”
There was a pause. “That isn’t… I didn’t think that was possible. How?”
“Food poisoning,” I said.
“I see.” Another long pause.
She was playing it very cool. These were her people, weren’t they?
“They wanted to eat us,” I said, still trying to figure out where she was hiding. “They took a vote, so it was all legal and above board, but I’ve never had much faith in politics, so I demanded a recount. Turns out dead people aren’t on the electoral register.”
“But how will you enter the shrine without their help?”
“I don’t need their help. I don’t think the entrance was blocked by you guys, I think it was blocked to stop you from getting in. You probably wanted me to open it for you.”
Arthur made this place for Wesley. He knew she wouldn’t have her body with her, because he had her body. He built a shrine, but it was unlikely he worshipped any of the old gods. He built a shrine to her. And what better place to leave her body?
Wesley could have blown the shrine to bits. Arthur knew that. But, thinking about it, there was a much easier way into the shrine, and that was in my current state. The only reason I hadn’t slid through the ground to see what lay below was because of my experience with the poison dart that had struck me.
This place was prepared for someone like me.
Only, I had healed myself, so someone like me, but not me. Maybe someone like Richina. In fact, Richina more than anyone.
Did Wesley already know this? It seemed like she should have, but then why not tell me?
It wasn’t a big deal. The sword and shield had been left on purpose. Probably not for me, but they were mine now, and the only person to use them against seemed to be the shy priestess.
“Where are you?” I asked. “I think Arthur wanted us to meet. He wouldn’t have provided me with this sword to kill you otherwise.”
“Why would you want to kill me?” she said. “You don’t even know me.”
“I tend not to give cannibals the benefit of the doubt.”
“We didn’t want to be cannibals. He made us do it.”
“Oh shut up. He didn’t make you enjoy eating people.”
“Open the shrine. Let’s enter it together. I think you’ll find the truth in there.”
That was not the approach I wanted to take. If I used Wesley to crack it open, I might do damage to Wesley’s body. If I went in like I was now, it might let Richina in. I wasn’t sure what she wanted from the shrine, but I was pretty certain I didn’t want her to have it.
Arthur must have left a way for Wesley to reclaim her body, but I couldn’t see it. Did I want to confront Wesley about it? If she did know the answer, she might have been holding back to let me work it out for myself. I’d always wanted a teacher to show me how to handle this world, perhaps she was the one I’d been waiting for. My own personal Yoda.
I returned to my body. There wasn’t any particular rush, the shrine wasn’t going anywhere. If this was a game, there’d be a key or a pressure pad or a power supply I’d have to reconnect.
Maybe a good night’s sleep next to a hut full of bloody human remains would help me see things more clearly. I’d have it destroyed in the morning.
As I left the shrine, Damicar came hurrying up the path. He was out of breath and had a bottle of some kind in his hand which he was waving around.
“The poison… the fish poison…” He was having trouble getting his words out. “They take these drugs.” He waved the bottle at me. “The poison won’t kill them.”
“I thought you said there wasn’t a cure for the fish poison.”
“There isn’t. But if they take this…” He paused to take rapid breaths. “The fish poison won’t kill them, it will change them.”
There was a scream from the direction of the village. And then more screams.
They were already cannibals. What was worse than that?