Jack couldn’t get used to how AAA’s MBP look so similar to Eurasia’s. From the people with white coats to the metallic corridors to even the vats found in the side rooms, used for the growing foetuses, everything appeared to be of the same design. Though he initially didn’t notice it when got hoisted off that ship and put in a container, the view now reminded him of the first time he discovered what really happened in the MBP. Is TA’s MBP the same too? he wondered.
‘You don’t look too surprised,’ the suited man named Alfred commented. ‘Normally, outsiders get confused or in awe.’
‘I’ve seen this before,’ Jack admitted.
‘Ah, an escapee.’
Jack’s eyes widened. He glanced at the man but his expression remained stern. The old man that stood by Bastion’s side ninety percent of the time remained a mystery to him. However, his fidelity to the king of AAA was one thing Jack was certain of.
‘How did you know?’ Jack gave a half-hearted chuckle.
‘You act as if you’re the first unauthorised personnel to do it,’ Alfred’s tone turned deep. ‘You’re fortunate the sire took an interest in you. I doubt you would have met such a pleasant reception otherwise.’
Jack didn’t know what else to say. His heart raced with every step. The thought of being disposed at any moment made sweat drip from his brows. The silence from Alfred didn’t help either as they made their way to the room at the end of the corridor where the king awaited them.
‘Keep calm,’ Jack told himself.
‘Hm?’ Alfred caught onto his murmuring.
‘Oh, nothing. Let me get the door.’
Jack picked up the pace, turning his walk into a slight jog and pulling ahead of Alfred. He then pushed against the metallic door. However, it didn’t budge. Confused by the blockade, he looked around for a handle to pull. But, to his dismay, he couldn’t find anything and made a complete fool of himself as he just stood there.
It didn’t take long for Alfred to catch up to him. He eyed Jack, out of either disappointment or disinterest, before picking a card out of his pocket. He reached out to a buttoned pad to the side of the door that also contained a thin slot at the very top.
‘Go in,’ Alfred instructed as he swiped the card through the slot. The door slid open the very next point.
Inside the room, on a throne made out of swords, surrounded by an entourage of uniformed women feeding him fruits, lay the old child whose face contained the most menacing of smiles. He mashed buttons on a portable device without even giving Jack a whiff of attention. Despite this, Bastion’s aura exuded an air of haughtiness that almost compelled him to kneel. He gulped instead, taking a few steps forwards to greet his master.
‘I’ve come back from my mission, sir,’ Jack reported, aiming to be as professional as possible.
Bastion sat up. He blinked a few times then put down his contraption. With a wave of his hands, he told the women to back down before jumping off his seat. He walked up to Jack, going around the stealth bestial several times before stopping and making eye contact. If not for the fear he felt, Jack would have found the height discrepancy comedic. But, no. He didn’t dare laugh, he didn’t dare speak, he didn’t even dare breathe.
‘Hmm,’ Bastion pondered. ‘Do I know you?’
‘I beg your pardon?’ Jack’s tension fell in an instant.
‘Look. I deal with thousands of you bitches every week with like a million f****** missions each. I don’t give a s*** about remembering all of you. So, which one are you?’
‘Um, Jack Darius.’
Bastion glared at him some more. He stroked a non-existent beard, but it seemed he wasn’t getting anywhere. Do I say something? Jack asked himself but decided against it for the sake of his own well-being.
‘Yo,’ Bastion turned to the women, ‘Any of you know who this guy is?’
Most of them whimpered. No one wanted to speak. The felt the same way Jack did except for one who stepped forward.
‘Wasn’t he the one you called Jacky boy?’ the woman, who Jack remembered was called Elivia, said.
‘Jackie boy? Hmm,’ Bastion looked back at Jack. ‘Jacky boy. Jackie boy? Jackie boi! Aha, you’re back, you beautiful bastard!’
‘Yeah, that’s the na-’
‘Shut up will ya?!’ Bastion interrupted Elivia. ‘You know what? Get the f*** out of here! All of you leave. Oh, all of you except Alfred. He stays.’
‘Yessir,’ the women said in unison.
‘Yes, sire,’ Alfred led the women out before coming to Bastion’s side.
‘Now, Jackie boi, hooooow are you?’ Bastion cooed.
‘I think I’m doing fine,’ Jack didn’t know what else to say. ‘I’m still getting used to my claws, but otherwise there doesn’t seem to be an issue.’
‘Good. Good. Aflred, pick me up. Let’s take a stroll, shall we?’
‘Yes, sire,’ Alfred obeyed. Bastion pulled on Alfred’s grey hair forward and moved as if that controlled him.
Jack followed without prompt, maintaining a metre-long distance throughout. The mages, on the other hand, didn’t bother coming close. Most looked scared while others just knew better than to disturb Bastion. Jack realised they were going to that place after all. Delaying the king would bring his wrath, or so everyone believed. One could never know with Bastion.
The only room in question was probably Bastion’s favourite and probably the only one that Eurasia’s MBP never had. Even after arriving at the place for the second time, Jack didn’t know what anything in it did. The furniture looked weird: elongated seats made out of soft materials that made an “L” shape, fat boxes that connected to thin boxes through wires, an array of disks and cases that lined shelves, a holed table with sticks and balls placed on top of it and many other things.
Bastion hopped off Alfred and went to the shelf. He picked up one of the discs then slotted it in one of the fat boxes. Something whirred from within and the thin box lit up in an instant. On it showed some words, though Jack couldn’t comprehend what they meant. What’s a “Wii”? he thought to himself.
‘Hold this, Jackie boi,’ Bastion instructed, handing him a rod that had two buttons and a plus and getting one of his own. ‘Want me to make a character for you too?’
‘Um, sir, shouldn’t you hear by mission report first?’ Jack asked, regretting his decision the next moment.
‘The one where you sent him to test his claws in Egypt. It’s also where experiment nine-eight-two-four failed to win,’ Alfred explained.
‘Oh, that!’ Bastion realised as he moved the white rod that somehow moved a hand on the thin box. ‘Yeah, about that. I don’t give two s**** about them. They lost, so it’s their fault. They needed months to sort out leadership because one fatso dies on us. It’s like they need me to sort everything for them.’
Does he not realise I helped assassinate the leader? Jack wondered but didn’t raise the point up. ‘But aren’t they your fellow mages? Did we just send them to fight for nothing?’
‘Oh, no, not at all. I learnt that experiment nine-eight-two-four is an absolute s*** strategy. Some of them may have died, but that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to take.’
‘Doesn’t that leave us a little defenceless in Egypt?’
‘If I was at any risk, I wouldn’t have done it, Jackie boi. It’s part of my master plans.’
‘But this war has been going on for-’
‘Can you shut the f*** up for one second? I’m trying to set this game up,’ Bastion interrupted. He moved the rod some more which corresponded with a bloated head that looked like Jack showing up on the thin box’ screen. ‘Sheesh. This is why the manush are so much better than the mages. You know why?’
‘No, sir, I do not,’ Jack bowed in apology.
‘They don’t give a damn about what’s happening to others outside of their little circle of people. There could be several wars going on in some distant lands and these sons of bitches are more concerned about what junk they had in their pants. It’s both ridiculous and hilarious at the same time!’
‘I see,’ Jack replied, though he didn’t understand a thing Bastion said.
‘Alfred knows how awesome the manush are too. They’re the type of people who would lose to emus. F****** emus! How crazy is that? You can’t make this up!’
‘Yes, sire. I remember that loss quite clearly,’ Alfred confirmed.
‘What’s an “emu”?’ Jack asked despite his fear of getting his ear chewed out for stupid questions.
‘F****** stupid, ugly, flightless birds. That’s what they are,’ Bastion answered without backlash, much to Jack’s relief. ‘And the manush lost to them! Oh, and don’t get me started on the fact they let their kids die from preventable diseases because “mah mur-al-ee-ty”. I’m telling you, so much stupid s*** happened. But those days were the best not gonna lie. Can’t believe I let the manush go extinct.’
‘Extinct?’ Jack questioned.
‘Yeah, they died out. Either killed from radiation poisoning or they converted into a mage. Why you asking?’
‘Didn’t that woman that worked with me say one them was a manush?’ Jack responded in an unsure manner.
‘Woah, woah, woah, woah. Woah!’ Bastion dropped everything and jumped on the seat to meet Jack at height level. ‘There are manush still alive?’
‘According to her, but I killed him before I found out.’
‘Oh, for f***’s sake!’ Bastion stomped his feet before coming to a sudden realisation. ‘But if there’s one, there’s got to be more, right?’
‘I don’t know, sir.’
Bastion burst into excited laughter. He collapsed and began rolling around with no indication of stopping. His energy surprised Jack but not as much as the fact that he acted like that in the first place. Weren’t kings and leaders meant to be more reserved? he questioned
‘Of course, there is! It’s so obvious now! You can’t have a manush without more manush reproducing,’ he exclaimed at last after calming down. ‘If whats-her-name knew there was one, then she must have met others, right? No normal mage would notice a manush otherwise. Oho! This is brilliant. Where is she? I need to talk to her.’
‘I never asked her name,’ Jack admitted. ‘She never gave it to me, but I believe she’s still with the army Eurasian squadron that beat “experiment nine-eight-two-four.”’
‘Then that furry must be close by too.’
‘Yeah, that guy.’
‘He’s still in contact with her the last time I checked, yes.’
Bastion turned to Alfred with the biggest grin he had. ‘We need to get her. Make preparations as soon as possible.’
‘Yes, sire,’ Alfred complied, leaving the room.
‘As for you, Jackie boi,’ Bastion said, picking up the white rod from the floor. ‘Let’s play some bowling!’
‘I apologise, but I don’t know how to,’ Jack replied.
‘It’s simple. You just swing your remote and your avatar will copy it. Then you try to hit as many pins as possible.’
Jack assumed “avatar” meant the large-headed image that looked like him on the screen. He swung the rod as instructed and, to his disbelief, the avatar threw a ball at some odd-shaped pillars, knocking some down. A six showed up, though he didn’t know what that meant.
‘Yep, that’s it!’ Bastion cheered. ‘My turn!’
Humanity is in trouble with him in charge, Jack concluded to himself. Or maybe it has been for a long time already. He decided to play along with the king of Africa. What other choice did he have? His life was in the hands of this person. Even he wanted to, he couldn’t do anything in retaliation. So, he just stood there and listened to the child’s whims.
‘Manush, manush, maaanush! Manush, manush, maaanush! Manush, manush, maaanush, hey!’ Bastion began to sing for whatever reason.
Yeah, Jack thought, deciding to try out Bastion’s lingo, the manush that gets captured by this maniac well and truly “f*****.”