I know it’s not good to generalise but in most cases I can think of I am against the idea of slavery.
Hear me out. Radical as my position might seem, I have to make my stand on this hill. Slavery bad. There are not good people on both sides of this argument, no matter what your favourite fat dumbfuck wants you to think.
If you are going to make someone a slave, then choosing the dead does make a lot of sense.
I mean, they’re only taking up valuable real estate, contributing little and updating their Instagram very infrequently. Why not put them to work for no payment?
How many times as a working person have you wished you were dead? Well, these people have achieved the dream. The perfect workforce for the modern business world. Jeff Bezos would be all over that shit.
“It’s not a good idea,” said Claire. She had the ability to look down at me without being taller. Something to do with the long nose, skewed the perspective.
“I didn’t say it was.”
“You were thinking it,” said Claire.
“You can’t read minds, Claire,” I said.
“I don’t need to,” said Claire. “Everything you’re thinking, Maurice already tried to use to convince me.”
“Yeah. But I’m not—”
“Dead people don’t count. They don’t care. They don’t have feelings. They won’t unionise. They’re carbon neutral. Health and Safety isn’t an issue. I could go on.”
“No,” I said, “that’s fine.” She had reeled off the list in such a despondent tone I didn’t have the heart to argue with her. Not that she was wrong, but I would like to think I could come up with some angles Maurice hadn’t considered.
I looked around at the city. There was an air of contentment that hadn’t been here last time I visited. A feeling of stability. Mind you, last time I visited, I brought an invading army with me. Many of whom were undead and not paid to be there.
“Everyone here has slaves now?” I asked.
“Most people,” said Claire. “Everyone else is trying to earn the contribution points to get their own.”
Claire took a breath. “Maurice set up a system where citizens complete tasks to get contribution points, then they can use their points to claim rewards, one of which is your own slave.”
“He gives out quests?” You leave the planet for a few days and suddenly it’s been gamified. Wasn’t that supposed to happen when I arrived?
“It’s not as cool as it sounds,” said Claire. I could tell she was finding this whole process exasperating. She’d already been through something similar with Maurice, trying to convince him what he’d done wasn’t okay, when clearly it was both okay and cool, if you were into the whole making life less difficult for you and screw everyone else (and who wasn’t?)
“I’m not saying it’s cool or not cool,” I said. “I’m just thinking it through from Maurice’s perspective. He must have had a reason to go this route, right? It might not be the best idea ever, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work out in the long run. Ideas evolve, flaws get ironed out, bugs get fixed. Anyone can earn these contribution points, can they? What other rewards are there?”
Claire’s shoulders sagged and she looked over at Jenny. “I can’t go on like this. They’re both the same. They’re both idiots. We can’t win against idiots.”
Jenny stepped past me and put her arms around Claire and they hugged in mutual commiseration. Two girls who had realised they had made the ultimate mistake of falling for thoughtful, intelligent men. You wouldn’t think something like that would come back to bite you in the ass.
You would have thought life would be a lot simpler with a guy you could bully and argue with as an equal, and even beat in arm-wrestling two times out of three. But women forget that a man — even a nerd or a gay or a feminist — is still a man.
We are driven by hormones the same way as women. Maybe be we don’t bleed internally every twenty-eight days, but that doesn’t stop us acting unreasonably. Like what we want is more important than what everyone else wants.
Hormones are just drugs, and all drugs have the same effect. They make you think about you.
“Alright, calm down,” I said as Flossie joined the huddle. Fuck knows what she thought she had to complain about. Her bloke was only interested in making her happy, the fool.
Dudley was still next to me, but I could tell he only needed the nod to go over
“You haven’t got to the point where you can blame men for your problems. You had a hand in the choices you made, you know. This is your own fault.”
Three beady sets of glowering eyes aimed at me, target locked.
The three of them had changed quite a lot on the surface. Claire especially was in expensive clothing and had her hair and makeup done to a high level. Other than that, though, they hadn’t changed that much.
“Look, Maurice came up with an idea,” I said, calmly and in a reasonable manner. Like that was going to help. “It might not be a very morally defensible idea, but it looks like a pretty effective one. People here like it, right? They’re on board because their lives are easier, they have more free time, and they have servants to do all the jobs they don’t want to do. Who wouldn’t love that?”
“Are you looking for a job in Maurice’s PR department,” said Claire, somewhat sarcastically. Although not as sarcastically as I had expected.
“Are you saying he has a PR department?”
“Yes,” said Claire. “It was his first order when he became the Lord Protector of the city.”
“Hey,” I said, “that’s my title.” I didn’t care that much if Maurice wanted to keep the Jews in Egypt (pointless mounds of pointy stones won’t pile themselves) but you don’t nick other people’s usernames. Not cool.
“I thought… I thought you would understand,” said Claire.
“That slavery is wrong!” said Claire, her voice rising with the insanity of what she was having to say. “I thought everyone would. Especially a black guy!”
“Now you’re just being racist,” I said. She didn’t take the accusation very well. Women who bang black guys think they get an auto-pass or something.
Black people, of course, are the ones traditionally associated with the anti-slavery movement. The logic is pretty obvious. They suffered from it the most, the most recently, so they get to lead the charge against. Expert witnesses.
But slavery has nothing to do with actual skin colour. Lots of people have been used as slaves throughout history, of all races.
Anyone with power will try to use it against anyone without it. I don’t know if you’re a history buff, but I think a quick look over the last six thousand or so years will show I’m correct. Even the last sixty years.
Everyone treated unfairly protests their treatment and advocates fairness. Right up until the moment they get the upper hand.
White people opened up a lead on the rest of the world and did what race leaders have always done. Used their winnings to fuck over their competitors. That’s how the free market works. You don’t use money to invest or increase production — certainly not to pay workers more than you have to — you use it to put traps down for the people coming up from behind.
You know who does really well in sports? Black people. They still cheat and take drugs to get an edge. I mean, you expect it of the Russian sprinter, what chance has he got otherwise? But all these record-breakers who can outrun a bullet, they still do it.
Anyone with an advantage will try to exploit it. And they won’t just do it within the rules agreed to by all sides. What’s the point of winning if you can’t use it to not get treated the same as non-winners?
Maurice wasn’t thinking like a black person, he was thinking like a powerful person. Not only was he using those who weren’t able to defend themselves, he was using them to bribe those who could.
There is no master race, there is only the master. And if you aren’t it, you’re the servant.
“You’re not going to stop him, are you?” said Claire.
“I’m not sure what you want me to do,” I said. “Free the enslaved undead so they can stand around doing nothing?”
“I don’t care about them,” said Claire. “They’re dead, they can do what they like. Don’t you understand? What kind of person thinks it’s okay to use others without consent? Urgh. Why am I asking you? You’re the last person who would understand.”
I did understand. I completely got it. Whether or not the dead were working for below minimum wage was not the issue. It was the position Maurice had taken when he decided he could take control of them. Just because they couldn’t say no didn’t mean he could take that as a yes. The dead might not care what Maurice made them do, but Claire did. And the fact it made no difference to Maurice was a deep wound to their relationship.
“What about Joshaya?” I said. “He’s the one who raised the dead in the first place. He must have something to say about it.”
“He hasn’t been here since you left,” said Claire.
“And the Fairy Queen?”
A look passed over Claire’s face that made it clear there were some unresolved matters there.
“She is… helping Maurice.”
“Oh. Helping? They’re working together, are they?”
Claire nodded, eyes narrowed, lips tightly together.
The Fairy Queen, as I recalled, had the whole sexy/evil thing going on. And Maurice had recently acquired a new body. Vegetable-based, but still quite buff.
“Do you think she’s controlling him?” I asked.
“No,” said Claire. “If anything, he’s controlling her.”
“Really?” I couldn’t imagine Maurice dominating anyone. “Well, I wouldn’t mind going to say hello.”
“He won’t see you,” said Claire.
“What? Why not?”
“They won’t see anyone. Too busy making plans for the rest of the world. They’ve done so well here, they intend to roll out the slave business to all the other cities. There are a lot of dead people here. You just have to dig them up.”
“They’ll see me, though. Maurice wouldn’t ghost me. Not even for the dead.”
“You’d be surprised,” said Claire. “He’s changed.”
“Yeah, but I think you’re forgetting how little I care what other people want. I wasn’t going to knock on the palace gates and ask to be let in. This place, this city, you guys only took over because I didn’t want it. This is your problem, Claire. You think you earned your way to the top, how it’s unfair things aren’t the way you’d like when you’re so special. None of you are special. Remember when you first got here, how hopeless you were? Other than the nicer togs, you’re the same person. And so am I. Now fucking lead the way. Won’t see me. I fucking own this place, you lot are just squatters.”
The people around us, who had grown bored of the new arrivals and were only mildly interested in the dragon, stopped at my bold declaration. I hadn’t even said it very loudly, but ears are tuned to pick up that kind of extreme sound. The sound of someone bullshitting.
They parted to let us through and followed from behind, keen to see how this would end. They were expecting it to go badly for me. They could be right. Maybe if they had any idea who I was they might think differently, but I doubted it.
I could tell from Claire’s shoulders, even from behind, that she was inclined to agree with the crowd. She knew what I was capable of, but she knew what Maurice was capable of now. And Maurice had put her in his place, so he must be truly powerful, right? I mean, if a little twerp like me could overcome his majesty, then what did that say about her handling it so poorly?
Everyone just sees everything from their perspective and assumes that’s the important one.
We had quite a retinue as we approached the palace, the seat of power. I hadn’t asked what happened to Laney. I was afraid if I said her name she would suddenly appear.
There were guards outside the palace. Very clearly undead guards. Their skin was the giveaway — in serious need of moisturising. And their captain was familiar.
“Caim, got yourself a new job?”
Caim stared at me like he had never seen me before. “No entry.” His voice was like slabs of stone falling like dominoes.
“Get the fuck out of the way. I took you out of the ground, I can put you back in it.” It wasn’t like me to go full retard off the bat, but you can’t play it subtle with the dead. Dulled sensibilities.
The guards drew their weapons. I sighed. It wasn’t like I expected fear or even respect. Just a little short-term memory would do. I left my body. When I returned to it, the guards all dropped to the ground, including Caim.
They needed a connection to the living, and I happened to have a wooden sword that was very good at severing the same. Hell, it was about the only thing I was good at. Maurice might have enslaved the dead but it wasn’t going to do him much good against me. I was all about setting people free.
“Right,” I said, “this way is it?” I pushed the gate and found it heavier than I’d expected. The crowd watched me strain to get it open, which kind of undermined my display of omnipotence from a moment ago.
Jenny appeared next to me, pushing the gate too, with Dudley and Flossie joining in. the gate slowly swung open.
The crowd made to follow us in but I turned around and raised my hand. “You can stay here. You’re all bloody useless.”
They looked like they might want to argue with me, but somewhere in the dark recesses of their peasant brains they recalled I had just dismissed a dozen undead soldiers without breaking a sweat. Even if they suspected someone else had done it and I was a big faker, that someone else might still be around.
“Who are you?” said a chubby guy with a bald head. He was actually interested in knowing my name, would probably spread it around as the story was told across the city. My chance to start the Legend of Colin.
“Go fuck yourself.” I turned around and entered the palace grounds.