“So, you’re saying Jenny told all of you that I didn’t fancy getting into the hero business, and then she convinced you to take my place?”
“It’s a bit more complicated than that,” said Maurice, “but basically, yeah.”
“And you all agreed to this death sentence?”
“It sounded like it would be fun,” said Maurice.
“You’re all idiots,” I said.
“Yes,” said Maurice. “Very likely. But she wasn’t wrong, was she? You don’t want to do it, do you?”
“Of course not! But since when did Jenny get to decide what I did or didn’t want to do?”
“Since the first day you met her.”
“Fuck you, Maurice. This idea you have that I’m her pet and she takes care of me is bullshit.”
“Okay, okay, I take it back. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“I’m not upset,” I said, forcing myself to stop shouting. “You’ve never seen me upset.”
“Yes, I have. I’ve seen you really upset, and crying. Many, many times. I mean, you cry a lot for a guy.”
“That’s sexist, you dick.”
“Like that time we’d been walking for miles and your shins really hurt and we all started tap dancing in front of you and you wouldn’t talk to anyone. You were upset for like half a day.”
“Okay, you’ve seen me upset. My point still stands. Jenny had no right to replace me on the road to doom.”
“She had the right,” said Maurice. “That’s how love works.”
Sometimes, it’s hard to deal with how perverse the relationship between people has become. No one understands their role anymore. They just assume they’re here to do whatever they think would look cool if they were in a movie. Saving people, doing the right thing, stopping evil corporations from poisoning the water. I really had to stop.
“That’s not how love works,” I said.
“How would you know?” said Maurice.
“I know what love is. Just because I don’t like it, doesn’t mean I don’t get it.”
“What is love?” said Maurice.
“Stop!” said Maurice, one hand raised. “No Haddaway, please. I don’t want that song stuck in my head as I save the world.”
“You’re not going to save the world, Maurice. You’re wasting your time, and your life.”
“Tell me, simply, without reference to anything biological or sexual or chemically induced, what you think love is,” he said.
He was being serious, waiting for me to tell him the secret that people have been searching for since Valentine’s Day cards were invented.
“And I don’t want to hear about how the bond between parent and child is the only genuine emotion connection human beings have.”
“You really think I don’t know?”
“I’m not sure,” said Maurice. “I think you might have some kind of emotional blindness. Like the way some people can’t see colour, you can’t see the reason for wanting to sacrifice yourself for someone else gladly.”
“What is love? I genuinely want to know. What you really believe.”
He was being very intense, plus he was a six-foot black man, which is culturally the group the media had trained me to be the most intimidated by (and also entertained by in music and sports, which makes it very confusing).
I looked over at Wesley and Arthur, the ultimate example of why love was an excuse to behave as you pleased.
“Love is… when someone commits a horrible crime, but you don’t want the police to catch them.”
“Enough to help hide them?” asked Maurice.
“Let’s not get crazy,” I said. “We’re talking about love, not some kind of fanatic martyrdom.”
“Hmm,” said Maurice, looking disappointed. “No one had a police analogy.”
“You were running a pool on what I thought love was?”
“No, not really. There’s no prize. We already have everything we need.”
“Are you sure? Do you have enough anti-smug cream?”
“And it wasn’t a pool, more like bingo. I only need two more for a line.”
Under normal circumstances I’d be annoyed that they thought I was so predictable they could make a game out of it. If I didn’t know what the hell I was going to do, how the fuck did they? It was the height of hubris, and also it got right on my tits.
“I don’t know what you’re really trying to do here, Maurice, but if you think you can guilt me into coming to the rescue again, then you’re going to be very disappointed. What I will give you is some free advice. And by advice I mean criticism. Your plan sucks. I don’t even know what your plan is, other than swooping in like Man-bat. Man-bat, for Christ’s sake! The worst villain in the DC Universe, and they have Captain Boomerang.”
Maurice remained impassive during my righteous tirade against Australian supervillains
“It may be a bad idea but it’s something we’ve decided to do. Together. And it’s not like Jenny wanted us to push you out of the way and take the bullet meant for you. She didn’t make it out to be a rescue mission like that. You’ve already dodged the bullet, we’re just filling a vacancy. We want our lives to mean something. If you’re happy to be forgotten on the sidelines, that’s okay. If we lose, it won’t be your fault.”
“I know it won’t be my fault. Why would it be my fault? Don’t take away blame that was never there in the first place, you passive-aggressive dick.”
My cultural conditioning regarding large black men also told me the raging against them was not a good idea. But this was Maurice. He wasn’t a large black man on the inside. He was a giant nerd who was trying to do the best he could to impress his big-nosed girlfriend. Try sticking that in your auto-outrage stereotype machine.
“Are you two always like this?” asked Shroom.
“And you can take a flying fucking leap, too,” I said.
“I don’t think you appreciate the gravity of the situation,” said Shroom.
“I don’t think you appreciate—”
“—the gravity of—”
“—the huge penis growing out of your forehead. It’s like a fucking minor moon of Jupiter.”
Maurice shook his head and turned to Shroom. “Sorry, he doesn’t mean it, he’s just upset.” I wanted to say I wasn’t upset, but I would have screamed it at him, which would have been counterproductive. “Don’t worry, the smaller moons of Jupiter don’t have much gravitational pull. It’s the reason for their eccentric orbits.”
“The way to deal with this issue,” I said, ignoring Maurice’s attempt to make Shroom feel better by making the penis allusion more palatable through the pedantry of astrophysics, “is not to jump in and try to make yourselves into the kinds of heroes that fail at the box office. It’s to let the people involved sort out their own problems. It’s the only way they’ll get it out of their system.”
“They’ve tried that for the last hundred years,” said Maurice. “It’s only made things worse.”
“This is the way it is meant to be,” said Shroom. “Everything will be decided soon. Your role in it can’t be avoided.”
Now there was a challenge I could take up with no qualms.
“What is wrong with you guys?” I said. “All of you. You’ve been here all this time and you’ve achieved nothing, yet you still think you can rely on your judgement. It’s astonishing. Look, you can create these clone bodies. Do something useful with them. Make them all join together and make a giant robot or something. This shit isn’t that hard, you just have to think like a Japanese person.”
Shroom looked at me with a slack-jawed expression that suggested I was talking a different language. Then his eyes widened. “That’s brilliant!”
“What?” I said, unsure if he was talking to me. He was looking at me when his lips were moving.
“We can combine all the individual constructs into a huge… mega-fairy.”
“No,” I said. “That’s a terrible idea. How will you control it? Where will you keep it? How will you stop it from going crazy and destroying downtown Tokyo?”
Shroom was no longer paying attention to me. “Arthur, this is it. This is how we defeat them. How many druids do you have?” He went running over to Arthur to discuss the finer points of how to build a giant robot and, more importantly, how to get a toy deal with Bandai.
“This is your punishment for being such a huge weeaboo,” said Maurice. It was a low blow. “Also, hentai is not art.”
“Just stop, Maurice. You aren’t suddenly the expert on all things fairy. This is going to end in a terrible mess.”
“I know,” said Maurice. “I mean, you’re probably right. But that’s the difference between you and… everyone else. We want to be part of something. We like being connected to each other, to a world we’re willing to fight for. It’s what makes life interesting.”
Being lectured to by a noob, and I wasn’t even online. “It’s up to you,” I said, “but it’s still a very bad idea.”
“You know that Fantastic Four movie where they made Galactus into a giant cloud? Worse than that.” Maurice’s eyes lit up. “Did you have Cloud Galactus on your bingo card?”
Maurice just smiled, like he knew something I didn’t. He knew nothing.
“You know nothing!” I said, just so he was clear.
“We’ve trained hard for this,” he said. “We’ve taken everything you taught us about manipulating people, using their words against them, preying on their weaknesses, and we’re ready to take the next step.” He seemed very pleased with himself.
“I feel you’ve misunderstood my teachings. I never told you to do any of those things.”
“No,” said Maurice, “but you were never that sort of teacher. You’re more of a retreat by example sort of person.”
It felt like I’d just been massively dissed, but I couldn’t be sure.
“We want to do this, Colin. Not just for you, for ourselves. We would actually really appreciate it if you didn’t come to our rescue this time.”
“The point’s a bit moot, isn’t it? They’re going to put their Super Sentai Power Druid into the field and take care of the fairies themselves, aren’t they?”
“It’s alright,” said Maurice. “We expected them to try to take over. We’ll take care of it.”
“You were expecting them to make a giant druid made up of smaller druids?”
“No,” said Maurice. “No one could have predicted that. But we never thought they would sit back and let us have all the fun.”
Fun. Did he really think it was going to be a blast, like playing laser tag for somebody’s birthday? Maybe it was, I never got invited to those sorts of parties so I don’t know. Never went go-karting either. I did think of going on my own, but that would be a bit sad, doing solo laps in a tiny car.
“Fine. If you’ve got this all worked out, I wish you luck. If you somehow manage to pull it off, I’ll be very impressed.” There’s an art to the backhanded compliment that I feel very few people have mastered. I like to think of myself as a talented amateur.
“It’ll be fine. Honest,” insisted Maurice. “It’s not like we’ll be doing this alone.”
There was a squelching sound from above as another much smaller nodule hanging overhead began to writhe and squirm. This one was smaller and didn’t look like much of anything. Far too small to be a person.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“The difference between us, Col, is that we aren’t afraid to ask for help. You always worry people will turn you down and you’ll be left feeling like a fool. Or they’ll agree, and you’ll be left feeling like they must be the fool. We would much rather ask and risk it, no matter how hard it makes us cringe.”
The pod opened and a small lump fell out. Shroom and the others were too busy planning how best to construct a megazord to notice. Or maybe they just didn’t care.
I edged forward to see what Santa had sent down the chimney. It looked like a dead foetus. With wings.
“Okay,” said Maurice, “it’s all yours.” He didn’t seem to be talking to me.
The lump began to quiver, then rise to its small feet. It also began to look familiar.
It opened its eyes and blinked. “288 is ready to serve.” Its voice was a bit squeaky, but otherwise it sounded just like the mobile penis from Nekromel.
I turned back to Maurice. “What is he doing here?”
“He was all they could spare. Mandy’s expecting and they’re all in a bit of tizz over it. Cheng’s worried it won’t be born a monster. It’s a cultural thing.”
“So they sent you him? What’s he going to do? Attack from the rear?”
“He’s very useful, actually. You’ll see. So, you’ll let me out of here?” said Maurice.
“Sure, why not? As long as you don’t ask anything else of me, you can do whatever you want.”
Maurice smiled and let out a relieved sigh. “Great. Thanks.” He stood there, looking at me expectantly.
“What?” I said. “Off you go. Toodle-loo, as they say in France.”
“You have to let me out near Fengarad. This place is built for you, or someone with your powers. You can travel pretty much anywhere.”
“What about Arthur?” I said. “He’s the one who made all these pocket voids.”
“Yeah, after a hundred years this is the best he could do. He can’t use them like you can.” There was that expectant look again.
“I thought we agreed you wouldn’t ask me for any more favours.”
“It’s just a ride,” said Maurice.
“That’s the biggest favour of all,” I said.
He went over to where my new body lay and picked it up like a wet coat. “We’ll need this.”
“Why?” I asked.
“When we get out the other end, time will be stopped until you enter your body, but your body is back in Gorgoth. With one of these, you can restart time anywhere you go. Technically you could have as many as you wanted. Once I enter a body, I’m done, but you can leave your body so you can be like Tony Stark with a range of suits, all made to different specs. Place one at each exit, you can go where you want.”
This was a lot to take in. “Like Tony Stark? Which makes you Rhodey?”
Maurice smiled. “Racist.”
Frankly, I thought it was an outrageous slur to talk about Stan Lee like that.
“This way,” said 288. He flitted off into the darkness.
“See?” said Maurice. “He’s being useful already.”
It wasn’t like I was going to take part in this nonsense. I’d just drop him off, maybe hang about to see how it turned out. Seeing them all die would provide me with the closure I needed to move on.
I looked over my shoulder to where Arthur and Shroom were still in deep discussion. Wesley was watching me leave, smiling.
“You’ll need more help than a flying penis to beat Joshaya,” I said.
“Yes,” said Maurice. “We have more.”
“More flying penises?”
Fair enough. They wanted to play at being hero, who was I to get in their way?
“This is good,” I said. “Sometimes the teacher has to step back and let the student fall. And then run away before the police turn up.”
“What if things go badly?” said Maurice. “What will you do?”
“Nothing. And after you all die, don’t visit me like Yoda’s Force ghost.”
Maurice quietly pumped his fist and mouthed something. It looked like he was saying, “Bingo.”