“If your opponent has expectations of you, do something completely different.”
I wait until the others have left my office, then I shoot a brilliant smile at Zane. “Seems like you ended up with me anyway. I have a proposition. Let’s sort our problem out, settle a few, and kill the rest.”
He sighs, showing that he is really tired of the charade. “Just stop it. Why are you even doing this? I really don’t understand you.”
Puffing out my cheeks, I take my time in formulating an answer. Then I swing my legs onto the sofa, trapping his thighs beneath them. “It’s true that you are nothing more than a gear in my plans. There isn’t anything like true, unending love between us. But you can satisfy my needs and it’s clear that my body is also attracting to you. You already accepted one loveless matchmaking with your former fiancée. What’s the problem with me?”
“You mean… aside from the point that your sudden change in heart freaks me out?” He shrugs. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe that you are an evil and manipulative person? That I don’t know what you are after? Maybe we should start right there.”
I laugh and lean back, lying down. “So, you exchanged a manipulative spy with me. Don’t you think that you really got the worse deal… Hm… Actually… You might have a point.” Waving my hand through the air, I dismiss the issue. “Whatever. Giving you the answer freely wouldn't be fun. Let’s just say that the future which I envision includes a world without slavery. Or at least with much less than now.”
He furrows his forehead. “What worries me is the way in which you will accomplish such a feat.”
“It won’t happen without bloodshed. That much is sure.” I raise my hand to stop him. “And before you spout some bullshit about the innocent, ask yourself this: How many victims does inaction claim? According to my rough estimate, there are about fifty million slaves in this world. Or at least people who live in circumstances which are very close to slavery. A slave doesn’t have much of a life expectancy and their children are also born into slavery. So I would say that each day on which we do nothing, about five thousand people die in misery and are born into misery. One point eight million people per year who never had a chance at a decent existence.”
Zane huffs. “You are reducing people to numbers. It isn’t that easy. Your actions will cause a world war. Millions will die. I am not exactly sure if your means justify the goal.”
Now it’s my time to be frustrated. Why doesn’t he get it? It’s such an easy calculation. “You are right. I am a being with unfathomable knowledge and power. At least compared to the common inhabitant of this world. My plan to end slavery could better the lives of future generations, but I am just too lazy to do anything about it. So what if the war costs fifty million lives? Or even a hundred? Within ten to twenty years, I would cause that many deaths by looking away. You know what? Let’s go for the slow approach, which might take dozens of generations and will likely end up in a big war anyway.”
He looks at me as if I said something strange. “Do you really care about the lives which your inaction costs? You aren't responsible for the deeds of others.”
“No. A big part of my reasons is that the people of this world are pissing me off, so I am going to teach them a lesson.” I sit up and look at him. “So, what do you say? I might even give you some lessons in manipulation and evil master plans.”
He looks doubtful. “Forgive me, but Janice seems to be the better choice for that. I have a feeling that she is the one who set this up.”
“Are you sure? The Mirai are the ones who ran away to an island instead of dealing with their enemies.” I sit up and place my feet on the ground. “So? Are we going to do this?”
Zane huffs. “It isn’t as if I have much choice. What comes next?”
“The World Assembly ends this evening, so I will use the opportunity to announce the fact that you are my official consort. It seems appropriate to spread the message.”
Zane covers his face with both hands. “What you want to say is this: By announcing our relationship before Illum’s departure, you make sure that the word spreads quickly to everyone in high places. It will be impossible to revoke it.”
I laugh. “There, you are already learning from me. Give it a few years and you will be able to keep up with my schemes.”
He holds up his hands, giving up. “Let’s just get it over with. But rest assured that I’ll oppose you if your actions aren’t acceptable.”
Oh, you will be cursing me before this is over. “You are so adorable when you are trying to threaten me. Almost like Lucifer.”
“That’s right. Where is the cat anyway? Normally, you are sticking to it like glue.” Zane surveys the room, searching for my familiar.
Yeah, that’s one of the things which you are better off not knowing. “He is playing with his toys.” Clearing my throat, I reach for his belt. “Shouldn’t we celebrate?”
Half an hour later, I let the others back into my office. All of them waited in front of the door.
Esmeralda is the first one who breaks the awkward silence. “And?”
I giggle. “He hasn’t lost his energy.”
“I will be her consort, however that may play out. We are already in this up to our heads.” He looks at me. “And I will get to see the possible results of such a relationship.”
I wave my hand. “As long as you don’t implant this sickening sense of justice in them, I am fine with it.”
“Ah, yeah. About that.” Janice turns to face Esmeralda. “The children’s education will be in Nova’s hands. They will be her successors. And as you see… The responsibility for Illum is quickly turning into a heavy burden.”
It’s clear that Zane’s mother isn’t happy about the outcome, but being faced with the Sovereign and me she decides to back down. It isn’t like she is in any position to negotiate.
I clap my hands and address Janice, “Now that we have it sorted out, what are the plans for our departure? The clock is ticking and you mentioned that you expect trouble from the other factions.”
The Sovereign glares at me. “And who might be the one who drew their attention to us by revealing her capabilities unnecessarily?”
Oh, if she knew that the portals are just the tip of the iceberg. I decide that answering the question would only end up in a useless discussion about my plans, so I remain silent. As if I would tell them anything. At this point, the events are largely unfolding on their own. My minions have their orders and the stage is set.
“Okay.” She sighs. “I don’t think that they will start shooting once the event is over. The non-aggression treaty is in effect until everyone has left the island. They also won’t follow us immediately, so we should use the time to get some distance between us and them.”
She looks at the ceiling and then at the floor, contemplating her next words. “Our biggest problem is Illum’s speed. The island is slow, so we have to rely on your cloaking ability.”
“Why don’t we fly at the highest possible altitude?” Zane asks. “We already escaped one confrontation by doing so.”
“We can do that, but we would reveal one of our capabilities. You could argue that the Sociocrathy already saw us doing so, but my ships were too far away to identify us with certainty. I would rather have them doubt the fleet’s identity. In their minds, we could’ve been a fleet from the Consortium.”
“If that’s the case, then I would like them to stay in the dark,” I add my own opinion. Better to have your enemies doubt each other than to give them certainty.
“Then do the obvious and split up,” Zane interrupts us. “Nova already mentioned that Illum’s offensive capabilities work best if there are no friendly units within reach. Send the Sovereign’s fleet ahead of us and bring Illum to the highest possible altitude as soon as we leave. That will even fuel their doubts – if they have any – about Janice’s fleet being the one which met us above the Sociocrathy's territory. They will have to ask themselves why we split up.”
I look at him and purse my lips.
After a few moments, he starts shifting his weight from one foot to the other. “What?”
I shrug. “It’s just that I had already started doubting your qualifications as my fleet commander. You just eased my mind.”