“What the hell happened out there?” Looking around worriedly, Jason Wydemere paced back and forth in the small room. Clockwork had arranged for it years ago as a possible safehouse, one he had never told Warzone about, and he was glad of it now. The walls might be cracked, with paint peeling and plaster showing, but it was safe – something that he hadn't expected to need.
It never paid to be unprepared.
“Sit down.” Clockwork glanced over at his companion, before returning his attention to the small laptop computer that sat in front of him. The Witch Doctor looked terrible. His suit was rumpled from his hasty escape from the Oligarchs' lair, and he was sweating profusely – Clockwork reflected on the irony that had left him without any other allies, and sighed. “We were outflanked.” He frowned at the computer again. “I made a mistake.”
“I thought you never made mistakes.” With another glance at the window, Wydemere finally grabbed one of the stained wooden chairs and sat down.
“No, I always know the probabilities, given accurate information, and I'm intelligent enough to generally estimate information I don't have.” Clockwork glowered at his ally. “This time, I clearly extrapolated wrongly.”
Jason shook his head. “It was Dragonfly. I swear he turned on us.”
“No, it was the girl, Miss Tyler.” Clockwork shook his head, closing the lid of the computer. “That was my mistake. I assumed that when Dragonfly defeated her in battle, it had shaken the nexus loose from her, and affected him. I underestimated its sticking power.”
“But beating them was the whole thing, wasn't it?” Jason asked.
“Not quite.” Abruptly, Clockwork slammed his fist down on the table, and Jason flinched. The laptop shuddered for a moment before settling back down. “Stupid! It was so obvious, and I missed it!” He stared down at the table, speaking as much to himself as to the Witch Doctor. “The nexus is not a physical thing, it is a creation of narrative. It is not a physical defeat that causes it to shift, but a narrative defeat. To cast down your enemy, to show to them that your ideology is stronger than theirs. I misunderstood the research.” He looked up, staring into the distance. “You can bet that Mundi knew.”
“So this… was for nothing?”
“Not entirely, but… we recorded the nexus beginning to shift to Dragonfly, and assumed we'd been successful. When Kyall defeated the Handyman and unleashed war on Sayleen, he really did shake that part of the nexus loose. But that idiot girl… Dragonfly was still threatened by her. She was still living with her dreams. And so he was pulled back, to challenge her for the nexus. Narrative demanded that one of them be triumphant, instead of having each win a half-victory over the other.”
“And Don lost.” The Witch Doctor said slowly, finally clueing in.
“Exactly. And then narrative was on their side again.” Clockwork frowned, and added, “And Scourge wasn't nearly as lucky as advertised. Odd.”
“So, now what?” Jason asked. “How do we capture the nexus?”
Clockwork slowly turned to look at him. He raised an eyebrow, and Jason looked away. Finally, he said, “Capture the nexus?” Slowly, he turned to look around the room, and smirked. “We have no army, Jason. We have no allies. We have few resources, and you can believe that the SEA is looking for us. We've missed our chance. We are not going to capture the nexus.”
“But Kyall still has part of…” Jason began. Clockwork cut him off.
“We can't reach him! The SEA controls our psigate.” He shook his head. “There will be war on Sayleen, and Handyman is not likely to rejoin the nexus, but Kyall can be defeated. When he is, his part of the nexus is likely to fragment. The Champions will retain it.” He opened the laptop again. “No, it was a good plan, but part of truly successful villainy – the sort that doesn't rely on your enemies to politely let you leave – means knowing when to cut loose.” He looked up. “The Oligarchs are over.”
“And what will you be doing instead?” Jason asked softly.
“Breaking my friend out of prison, of course.” Clockwork rolled his head. “Mundi managed it, I'm fairly sure that I can too given a year or two to prepare. It won't be profitable, of course, but it's what teammates do.”
The Witch Doctor watched him expressionlessly for a moment, then wordlessly turned and walked to the door. Clockwork added, “No, he won't.”
Jason spun. “Who won't what?”
“Rex Mundi will not accept your loyalty. You've opposed him too often, and the SEA is on your tail.” Clockwork shrugged. “Stay here and help me, or leave and help yourself. I already know the answer, but…”
Jason's jaw clenched, and he spun and stalked out of the room. Clockwork watched him go, then stood with a sigh. Alone again. Unsurprising – the Witch Doctor had been trustworthy only so long as the team was succeeding, and the chances of him betraying Clockwork for clemency were far too high to have tried to encourage him to remain. Besides, he had work to do.
“Sorry, old friend.” He murmured into the silence. “You trusted me, and I messed this one up big time. But I'm going to make it right.” Grabbing a baseball cap from the old shelf by the door, he tucked the laptop into the inner pocket of his large coat and walked out into the night. “To hell with this story. We've got our own to write.”