348: Skin in the Game

“We have all been where you have been,” said Legion. “We all had to find our place in this strange world, and made a poor job of it.”

I considered this meeting as dangerous as any battle. Four against one, and all the big guns on their side of the table. My only advantage was that they needed me for some reason, but that meant they were going to go big dick mode with the lies and bribes.

My intention was not to get sucked in. They’d given me back my ship already, so I saw myself as ahead already.

“Okay,” I said, “so far, I believe you.”

Legion sat down with a clank. He was probably wearing full plate under his black robes. His helmet was made of silver metal and entirely covered his face, but it wasn’t quite like a helmet from a suit of armour, it was more like a very tight fitting astronaut’s helmet. A bit like something a Power Ranger might wear. You know, ridiculous.

There were small holes around the mouth area to allow air in. It made his voice sound a bit tinny. He may have been a robot.

“Each of us at this table have one thing in common,” he said. “We quickly grasped the enormity of our powers, and focused on improving them. While the people we arrived with either met an unpleasant death or immersed themselves in living a fantasy life, leading to an even more unpleasant death, some of us put our energies into developing these staggering abilities we’d been gifted. As, I believe, you are in the process of doing.”

“My gift isn’t all that great,” I said. “I’m not really sure what to do with it, even if I could master it.”

“But you will. We all went through it,” said Legion. “And then we tried to take over the world.”

That escalated quickly. “I think you may have missed out a step or two.”

“It isn’t important,” said Cowdrey, “and quite embarrassing.”

“Nothing to be proud of,” said Dorothea.

“You believe it is something you would never do,” said Morwenna. “We all thought that, until hubris overwhelmed us.”

They all sounded vaguely Eastern European, although I couldn’t tell you where exactly, they all sound the same to me. Which isn’t racist. You can’t be racist when you comment on white people because we deserve it, or something.

“You have to understand,” said Legion, “none of us is a ruthless megalomaniac bent on world domination. We saw a world struggling under incompetent leadership and archaic technology and thought we could improve things. We were guilty of naivete and good intentions.”

I wasn’t sure how seriously to take any of this. Even if it was true, that they started off trying to create a fairer world for everyone, when has that ever worked out? When has it ever got beyond the planning stage?

“Thanks to a landslide election victory I’ve been voted in on a mandate of reform and social justice. Let the raping and ethnic cleansing begin!”

“So you wanted to raise living standards through benign dictatorship? What was the rationale? That you couldn’t make things any worse?”

“Exactly,” said Legion.

“Lucky guess,” said Dorothea.

“We thought we couldn’t make things worse, “ said Cowdrey, “and we were very, very wrong.”

At least they weren’t trying to trick me into thinking they had changed the world for the better. Now I just had to figure out what they were trying to trick me into thinking.

“The problem were the people,” said Legion. “They weren’t equipped to deal with stability.”

Cowdrey shook his masked head. “No matter how good they have it, they will find something to complain about.”

“And blame you for it,” said Dorothea.

They were quite a jaded bunch. The perfect group for me, you might think. Suspiciously perfect.

“I understand,” I said. “I get it. You went in to sort things out, and came away feeling unappreciated and resisted on the most basic attempts to implement progress. And I assume anything that did go well was treated as an easy win anybody could have arranged.”

“Exactly.” Legion turned to Dorothea. “Can’t be luck if he keeps doing it. No matter what we did, there was always something better someone else would have done.”

“The grass is always greener,” said Morwenna.

“What people fail to realise,” said Cowdrey, “is that the reason the grass is greener is because they aren’t over there.”

Jaded and bitter. My kind of people, hand-picked.

“The point is,” said Legion, “we all tried to make it work, in our different ways, for our different reasons, and we all failed horribly.”

“So you got together to form a supergroup? The biggest failures under the same tent? I can see the marketing potential would be huge.”

“What we did,” said Legion “was abandon the people to their fate, and used our gifts to selfishly take what we wanted and seclude ourselves where no one could find us. This is all separately. We had no awareness of each other at this point. I am the oldest, and once I found my home, I took no more interest in the citizens of this world. They could all go to hell, the ungrateful bastards.”

It was like a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Future. I could easily see myself going through a similar trajectory. Except, of course, I would never make the basic mistake of bothering to help anyone in the first place. Schoolboy error.

“I had no idea there were others who came after me,” continued Legion,” who tried the same thing, and failed just as spectacularly. But the world would not let us be, and intervening when there was no other choice brought us together..”

“And that’s why you sit in the dark wearing masks?” The whole ‘reluctant saviours’ angle was fine, I could sort of let it pass without considering every single word they’d said to be utter bullshit — if that was their jam, all power to them — but the Eyes Wide Shut cosplay was pushing it.

Legion breathed in and out slowly. I could hear it amplified in his helmet — exactly what a robot what do to try to pass as human. Nice try, Johnny Five.

“We keep our identities secret so we can continue to live our lives the way we want,” he said. “Once you help people, they think you owe them. Once you show mercy to an enemy, they hunt you relentlessly. Revenge, betrayal, blame.”

“With great power comes great obligation. They never leave you alone,” said Cowdrey.

Morwenna nodded. “We decided to do things on our own terms. We decided to use our gifts in the most minimal way, without fuss or acclaim. It just isn’t worth it.”

It was all making a lot of sense to me. But it also felt like it had been tailor-made to appeal to someone with my view of the world. I’m a quick study. Maurice had used a very similar strategy, he specifically did everything he could to keep me confused and in the dark, and he did it by knowing what things I was likely to pay attention to, and which I’d ignore.

This presentation had all those hallmarks to it.

“So you want me to do it instead? How does that make any sense? Everything you just said about how pointless and detrimental it is to help people still applies, it just applies to me instead of you. And you’re easily more powerful than I am, you could sort it out with a snap of your fingers.” I raised my hand to snap my fingers, because I’m a showman at heart and an audience responds better when they have a visual.

“Don’t,” said Dorothea, rising from her chair.

“Please don’t force us to take measures against you,” said Morwenna.

I’d been about to slip out of myself at that point, to have a peek at what these fuckers looked like from the adjacent world. They’d known what I was planning.

“How did you know what I was going to do?”

“It’s enough to know that we did,” said Legion. “Listen, we won’t send you unprepared. We will lend you our abilities, you merely have to say what you want done, and it will be so. A wall removed, the weather changed, a person killed… we will make it happen. You merely have to convince your friends their role in life isn’t to make decisions for other people. They can do as they please as private citizens, but the authority to rule must remain in the hands of the people of this world. Their hands, and that of their gods and monsters. Not us.”

From what I’d seen them do so far, I didn’t doubt these people really were as OP as they claimed. It was a pretty tempting idea. Not because I believed in their cause — whatever the fuck that was — but because it would be cool to walk back into the lives of the people who had left me for dead and wreck their ambitions. I mean, if I was a dick. Which I am.

“None of this explains why you don’t do it yourselves. I saw what you did with the ship, and how you can see things with your remote viewing ability. Zap them from here and call it a day.”

“That is an option,” said Legion.

“Quite a good one,” added Cowdrey.

“They would die when you could have prevented it,” said Morwenna. For someone with deep psychological insights, she didn’t get me at all.

“It’s got nothing to do with me, you’d be the ones who killed them. I hope you can live with yourselves in your secret castles with all mod cons and hot and cold running slaves.”

“We don’t have slaves,” said Dorothea.

“How do you know? You all value your privacy, don’t you? The other three might be up to all sorts of nasty shit they haven’t told you about.”

“They don’t own slaves,” Dorothea insisted.

I shrugged. It wasn’t like I hated their plan. Blocking Maurice’s plans and sending them off to live lives of quiet irrelevance was about what they deserved. But in the story of a hero, he must refuse the call to adventure if he is to learn the value of heroism. And if, like me, he couldn’t give a shit about heroism, he must keep refusing the call, take out a restraining order and move without leaving a forwarding address.

People want to see the development of a character from know-nothing noob to fearless protector of the weak, it’s very stimulating. They want to see Julia Roberts go from a $50 whore to a $3000 whore. That’s the kind of above market-value pricing for a blowjob that tells you you’ve made it.

“I think I’ve heard enough. I’m still not clear on why you need me to do this for you. I don’t have anything to gain, other than a truckload of inconvenience and your gratitude. I can manage without either.”

“You’re saying no?” asked Legion.

“Give me a chance, Spoiler-Alert. First, what about the other people involved in this shit-show? Peter. Remember him?”

“He’s dead,” said Dorothea.

“Are you sure? How do you know?”

“We have his body,” said Cowdrey. “He’s very dead.”

“And you don’t think he can exist without his body like Arthur? And what about Arthur? What if he gets involved?”

“He is trapped on the island,” said Legion. “He cannot influence matters.”

“And Wesley?”

They looked at me with blank faces. Because they were wearing masks, but also under them, you get a sense for it when it happens as often as it does around me.

“His wife? She was killed, wasn’t she?” Morwenna looked around at the others.

“You’re the one who told us,” hissed Cowdrey.

“I know, but then… Where is she?”

“Sorry,” I said, “she values her privacy, too.” Were they really unaware of Wesley’s presence? If that was true, it could come in useful. If they were just faking it, well, business as usual. “And Joshaya? He’s involved, too. The old gods might get out, as well. There’s a lot of variables to take into account, which is why I’m out.” I slapped my hands like a blackjack dealer finishing his shift.

“I told you he wouldn’t respond well to honesty,” said Dorothea. “We should have lied to him. He’s too miserable a person to do the right thing.”

Morwenna nodded. “You, who cling desperately to your misanthropy, will find it is a prison of limitations.”

Now they were trying to nag me into going along? Maybe they weren’t as well informed on all-things Colin as I’d thought.

“Yes, misanthropy,” I said, “but it’s a breezy kind of misanthropy. Light and easy to swallow.”

“You wish to take your ship and leave,” said Morwenna, like she was predicting the future.

“Amazing. It’s almost like you heard me heavily imply that’s exactly what I plan to do. The real problem, though, isn’t that I don’t have anything to gain from all this, it’s that you have nothing to lose, so if you decide to bail on me, I’m fucked. I don’t like relying on people, especially when cutting me loose could easily be both their winning and losing after-party celebration.”

“We won’t stop you leaving,” said Legion, “but please consider our offer overnight. You may feel differently after you’ve had time to think it over.”

“Okay, that’s fair.” It also made it less likely they would kill me now if they thought they still had a chance to sway me. Probably send me gifts and chocolates to woo me. I certainly hoped so. About time someone pampered me.

I rose from the table, the chair sliding away of its own volition. I turned to Cowdrey. “And I don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night to find you hovering over me.”

“I am not a vampire.”

“Good. There’ll be an anti-bat patrol with orders to shoot on sight.”

Grayson was waiting outside as he said he would. There was no sign of Biadet. We returned to the deck and were greeted by the sight of the Eternal Infinite floating off the starboard bow. It looked in better condition than ever.

It must have taken a great deal of energy to put it back together, so where did the commie bloodsucker get it? The sailors were running around as sprightly as ever, no signs of energy drain.

Lots of things weren’t adding up, but my main goal was to get back to the island and see Arthur. He and Wesley had to have more info on this lot.

There was no point trying to sneak off, they could find me and destroy the ship as easily as they fixed it, but they wanted me to think they could be trusted so I’d relent and do their bidding. Fucking idiots.

Grayson escorted me back to land in a boat. The islanders were still on the beach, but rather than staring menacingly out to sea, they were looking rather concerned watching Damicar crying and Laney standing next to him.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with him,” said Laney as I waded ashore. “I hardly touched him.”

Now, this was more the sort of catastrophe I was suited to deal with.

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