Previously on HTADDB: Colin and Claire were in the crypt of the druid church, arguing over whether Claire should sacrifice her well-being and do what Colin said (it was a fifty-fifty split). The others arrived and Colin realised the person helping Peter and Joshaya to keep him off-balance was Maurice, which he admitted was true. And now the continuation...
Chapter 303: Shame on You
“But why?” asked Claire, her hands shaking by her side.
It was a dumb question. Why lie to your friends in order to gain immense power? Not exactly the riddle of the sphinx. But Claire needed to ask it, needed to pretend there was an answer that would make everything okay.
Maurice had a ferocious grin on his face, the kind only severe embarrassment can produce. Despite any reasons and justifications he might have, when you get caught doing something you know you shouldn’t do — because all the Pixar movies you’ve ever seen have dramatised it for you in an easy to digest form — there’s no way to stop your body from producing all the ‘oh fuck’ hormones it contains, and sending them to your face.
“You went inside my mind and took my memories from me.” This was what Claire was really upset about. Not that Maurice had betrayed us and aligned himself with the enemy, but that he had crossed her personal boundaries.
“It wasn’t like that,” whispered Maurice. He was keeping is words quiet as though they would hurt less that way, but they filled the silent crypt we were standing in. “I did what I thought was best.”
“Best?! You thought lying to me was best?” The surprise of it was wearing off now, and her natural inclination to activate beast mode when she was angry was asserting itself. Part of me was curious how the telepath would fare against the reality-changer. Would the person who struck first win?
“I’m not saying it was a good thing, what I did, but…”
Everyone was waiting for the panacea to be served. We would all go ‘Of course, now I get it,’ and kick ourselves for thinking he was a selfish twat who had gone too far for personal gain. Good people didn’t do bad things. That would make them not good, and why would we make friends with a not-good person when we have such terrific judgement and insight in all areas of our lives?
Maurice’s sentence remained unfinished. His head dropped. “I’m sorry.”
I let out my breath, not realising I’d been holding it. Even though I wasn’t particularly surprised he’d made such a cold-blooded deal with Peter — we’re all capable of making shitty decisions — it was still a surprise to realise it had happened.
“Well,” I said, “you two have a lot to talk about, obviously, but we have other concerns right now.”
“No,” said Claire, refusing to yield the floor. “He’s going to explain—”
“Explain what? His ability to make poor choices? He wouldn’t be with you if that wasn’t the case, would he?” A little harsh, perhaps, but it got her to shut up for a second. “It’s not hard to guess why he did it, is it? It’s the same reason anyone would risk everything to have superhero-level powers. I mean, I wouldn’t have chosen Scarlet Witch as my prototype, but I can’t really judge considering how non-thematic my own ability is.”
They were all staring at me like I was talking a foreign language. Not even Maurice was joining in, and I’d mentioned a minor comic book character, usually a surefire way to get his attention. He resolutely stared at the ground.
“Who the fook is Scarlet Witch?” said Flossie. Say what you like about the girl, she was always there to ask the important questions.
“She’s in the Avengers. Walks around in a red corset most of the time. And a cape, of course, because it get chilly fighting supervillains in your underwear.” Flossie’s mouth hung open to indicate she had no idea what I was going on about. “She can alter reality by destabilising probabilities. In the comic, not the movie. Fuck knows what her power is in the movie. Wiggling her fingers, I think.”
I looked over at Maurice. Nothing.
I felt like I should do something. Say something. I was the leader, after all, and it was my job to keep the team together. Just kidding. But the atmosphere had become horribly awkward and uncomfortable, and that was without taking into account the fact we were in a crypt full of who knows what kind of unpleasantness.
Claire stiffened and straightened herself for the next attack. She clearly wasn’t going to let this go. “I want—”
“No one gives a shit what you want, Claire, so shut the fuck up.”
She turned towards me, the fury that was building like the Death Star charging up now aimed in my direction. “He violated me.”
“Yeah, so what? You did the same to him.” Which was true. She had made Maurice forget about his power so he wouldn’t realise it was keeping him alive. The weakness of his ability was that once you realised he had used it, it didn’t work any more.
“That was completely different,” snapped Claire, the cords in her neck bulging as she reacted to the idea she was capable of anything as heinous as what Maurice had done. “He asked me to do it.”
Also true. It had been Maurice’s suggestion to keep him in the dark. Wonder where he got that idea?
“Whatever the reason,” I said, “you had to alter his perceptions so he wouldn’t fuck things up. People do that all the time. That’s why he did it to you.” I could see she was about to launch into another pointless bout of wailing and gnashing of teeth. “I’m not saying it was right, I’m saying his reasons don’t require an inquest. He had the chance to get something he wanted, and he chose it over us. Over you. Do you have any other questions?”
The fire died in Claire’s eyes. Of course, she knew all this. Her demands for an explanation had nothing to do with wanting to understand why he’d done it. She was just hurt that he’d made the choice he had. Disappointment is an ugly emotion that serves little purpose. Hard to get rid of, though.
I turned back to Maurice. I was also pissed off with him, but I wasn’t going to scream and shout. At least I knew where the problem was now, and that provided some comfort. Even if you can’t stop the end of the world, it’s nice to know which direction the nukes are coming from.
My main concern was what to do next. How could I use this new information to not get crushed under a giant elf’s foot.
“I suppose you made the deal back in Fengarad?”
Maurice looked up and nodded.
“And Joshaya? You were working with him from the start?”
Maurice nodded again. “I told him how to keep you busy, so you wouldn’t worry too much about releasing whatever’s behind there.” He pointed at the wall behind me.
This was all about what was back there. Something Peter wanted let out, which made me want to make sure it stayed in. Unless that was what I was supposed to think. It was like playing whac-a-mole on a 4D chess board.
“And you don’t know what it is or why Peter wants it?”
Maurice shook his head. “He doesn’t like to tell anyone more than they need to know.”
For all his faults, Peter had a firm grasp on how to get shit done. He didn’t have the power to do it himself, but he was great at getting others to do it for him. Even gods. If I didn’t have impending doom closing fast I would’ve taken notes.
“Didn’t you think that would be bad?” asked Claire, still trying to come to terms with what had happened. “Not just for us, for the whole world. Once he can do what he wants, he isn’t just going to sit back and retire, is he?”
No one said anything, because what was there to say? We didn’t even know what Peter was planning.
The silence went on and on.
“It’s good we’ve cleared the air, isn’t it?” said Flossie, smiling nervously. “Now we can… we can…” She looked over at Dudley, like he was the person to break the ice and get everyone talking again. He was so not the person. He smiled nervously back at her. She took his hand and they carried out some kind of retarded smile-off. The world’s going to shit, but at least we have each other. Why couldn’t Peter have seduced these two to the Dark Side?
There was a long, deep sigh from beside me. I turned to find Jenny next to me, although I hadn’t noticed her change positions. She had a pained expression on her face. With her ability to sense other people’s emotions she must have been getting quite uncomfortable. With my ability to not sense other people’s emotions, I was getting mildly bored.
“What do we do now?” She looked at Maurice. “Can you use your ability against Peter?”
“No. It’s only useful when he boosts it.”
“He can’t stay here,” said Claire. “He can’t be trusted. He might change what we think at any moment. He might have done it already. How would he know?”
She’d gone from shocked to angry to petty revenge in a remarkably short time.
“Don’t be too hasty,” said Flossie, her words tinged with desperation. “It’s not too late to kiss and make up. We’ve cleared the air, we’ve cleared the air.”
The two parties were having trouble looking at each other, it would be a while before there’d be any kissing or making up. And even then it would be like a broken plate glued back together.
“He has to leave,” said Claire. “Go to Peter. Go be his puppet, if it means so much to you.”
The five stages of grief: shock, anger; pettiness; more pettiness; fuck you, I can get more petty.
I didn’t blame her, of course. She was reacting the way anyone would if they’d been betrayed, but she was getting a bit carried away. It wasn’t like he’d cheated on her. He’d just violated her being and taken away her right to self-determination. You can get the same effect by having one too many vodka and red bulls.
“I… I didn’t think it would matter,” said Maurice. “If Peter gets what he wants, and we… I get what I want, nothing’s really changed.”
“Of course it’s changed,” said Claire, pouncing like she’d been waiting for exactly these words, although she would have pounced on whatever he’d said. “Everything’s changed. How could you do this, Maurice? How could you do this to me?”
It really came down to that. She would have been fine with him fucking over the rest of us, probably would have helped, if he’d asked, but she couldn’t handle him doing it to her.
“Calm down, Claire.”
“I will not fucking calm down!”
“Fine, don’t calm down. At least get hysterical in a deeper register. A high-pitched voice is very irritating to the male ear, makes it hard to think. It’s what makes Mariah Carey so annoying. I’ve got a way out of this, but it’s hard to think clearly with you shrieking like a banshee.”
What I said wasn’t entirely true. There were all sorts of reasons Mariah Carey was annoying that had nothing to do with her voice, and also, I hadn’t thought of a way out of our predicament. But sometimes you have to dress for the job you want instead of the one you have.
“Okay,” said Claire. “What?”
They all turned to look at me. Even Maurice, with his hopeful eyes urging me to redeem him in everyone’s eyes.
“First, don’t look at me, look at him.” I pointed at Maurice. “If he starts changing things, shut him down.” My terminology was a bit on the dramatic side, but as long as we knew he was altering reality we could stop him. We just needed to be aware of it.
Claire turned to blast Maurice with the full force of her disapproval. Not something I’d wish on my second-worst enemy.
In many ways their powers were very similar. They worked differently and could be used to produce vastly different results, but they both had the potential to abuse people in the exact same manner. Something happens that you don’t like? Wipe it out and try again. It was basically save scumming for real.
Claire’s worked on a per person basis requiring her to remove memories from each individual mind. Maurice’s was a more holistic approach, where the whole of reality was in on the prank. But in terms of how the rest of us plebs saw it, we had no way of stopping them making us think what they wanted. Nice game, ARC.
Stupidly OP in the wrong hands. And any hands that aren’t yours are the wrong ones when it comes to abuse of power. If I’d had that kind of ability, I’m sure I would have employed it in furthering my own agenda, if I had one.
That’s the thing about judging others. It’s all very well recognising how selfish and self-serving someone’s being, but does that mean you wouldn’t have done the same thing in their shoes? If you were the child of some billionaire, would you be a highly driven and motivated go-getter? Or a lazy, spoilt arsehole?
Most people choose the second option when they can’t afford it, so who’s going to work hard when they don’t even have to?
Which got me thinking. You don’t need special powers to mistreat people. You can just use whatever you’ve got, it’s usually enough.
“Right. Well, you won’t like it, but I’m the leader, so we’re going to do things my way.” They waited for me to continue. “It’s pretty obvious, really. I’ll use my power to get rid of Maurice’s infection. Now, I’m not exactly sure which vine is from Peter, and which is from you lot, so there may be some collateral damage. You might find you don’t think or feel the same way about certain people.” I gave Claire a sideways glance. “But in the end it’s for the best. I’ve decided.”
Maurice didn’t look very enthusiastic. “That’ll mean I’ll lose my ability.”
“Exactly. You’ll be back to square one. But it means Peter won’t have access to them, either. We don’t need him save scumming his way to victory.” I turned to Flossie. “You don’t need to understand.” She shut her slightly ajar mouth.
Maurice shook his head slowly. “No. No, I don’t want to. I think it might be better if I just leave.”
That would be one way to deal with it. His power had a huge flaw that made him not as much of a threat when you knew he was willing to use it against you. And the other thing in our favour was the high level of shame he was feeling.
Shame is an excellent deterrent. It stops you doing all sorts of egregious shit, if someone can instill it into you when young. Sure, it has its downside, but without it we’d have people killing raping and stealing all over the place. They had to create religion just to make sure everyone had a healthy dose in their system.
Having said that, people these days have worked out how to bypass their shame sensors, bunch of heathens. You can’t rely on good old fashioned self-loathing the way you used to.
“Sorry, I don’t think I made myself clear. I wasn’t offering a suggestion. You’ve already made your decision to put yourself ahead of the rest of us, and you perfectly understood how distasteful that was going to be when we found out you had tricked and manipulated us. But you still did it, and I totally understand why. So you should have no problem understanding why I’m going to do the same to you.”
I took out my wooden sword and prepared to educate Maurice in how to correctly manipulate friends and loved ones.
HTADDB Book 6: Welcome to Requbar is now available on Kindle and EPUB. Thanks if you decide to buy a copy (please leave a review on Amazon/Goodreads). The book went through quite extensive revisions, so there are some changes from the online version, but nothing to drastically change the story.
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