“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming.” Spencer Ecchs stood at the head of the table, looking around at his companions. Next to him, Ada Byron sat elegantly, sipping from a glass of wine. On the left side of the table, Lucy Ladd and Phil paused in their chatting to glance over, while Joshua Smythe-Vallen looked up from his dinner on the other side. Next to him, Shivarex did not pause in his eating, although he did glance up quizzically. Standing at the end of the room, Psiborg simply waited.
“Coming to what? Dinner?” Lucy asked with a raised eyebrow. “We do this, like, four times a week.”
“True.” Ecchs nodded. “But tonight is a special occasion. Tonight, each of our bank accounts are richer to the tune of two and a half million dollars.”
“The Jehovah's Witnesses came through?” Lord Mayhem asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Indeed they did. Speaking of which, it is now officially a crime against narrative law to take the Lord's name in vain, at least until such time as someone offers us double the original rate to change it. So no cursing that way. Hell, Damn, and other variations thereof remain acceptable.”
“Wow.” Lucy said after a moment. “I… I can't believe it worked.” When the others looked over at her, she shrugged. “I mean, declaring new required taxes, sure. Stopping countries from fighting each other on the grounds that we make those decisions? Entertaining. But actually getting people to bribe us to put new narrative laws on the books?” She paused. “Wow.”
“Genius, I know.” Ecchs sat down luxuriously. “I mean, sure, it's fun to sit here and rule the world, teleport down to Paris for the day and know that no one's got the guts to take a shot at me. But I think even my enemies are going to have to agree – I'm the first guy to sell reality to the highest bidder. What can I say? Life is good.”
“Not too good.” Shivarex said darkly between bites. “What about the resistance?”
Ecchs' smile faltered for a moment. “What about them?” He muttered.
“You said no one's got the guts to go after us.” Shivarex pointed out. Next to him, Joshua nodded reluctantly, and he continued. “But they do. They've already taken out… how many of Ash's drones?”
“Eleven hundred and seven, and three nodes.” A set of vines hanging artistically from the ceiling helpfully supplied. “Compared to the three million, four hundred and seventy-two thousand, six hundred and twelve drones that I have available at this time, it is not a statistically viable amount.”
“Three…” Joshua choked on his juice. “Ecchs… are you sure it's wise to have that many drones running around? What if something goes wrong with one of Ash's nodes?”
“Believe me, Joshua. I've spent the last two weeks going over any narrative thread about a man's creations turning on him with a fine-toothed comb.” Ecchs smirked. “I admit, it's going to make things a bit harder on us, since we can't just turn the rebels' creations against them, but it seemed like a good idea anyway.”
Joshua turned to Ada. “Please talk to him.”
Ada shrugged. “I agree with Spencer. The scenario seems viable. Besides, we need a full-sized army if we are going to continue to implement our plans, and frankly we need the spies. The rebels are starting to recruit, and they're keeping on the move.”
Phil sighed, shaking his head, and Ecchs glanced over. “Problem?”
“No.” Phil said finally. “I jutht… I mith Nightthade.”
“I know, Phil.” Ecchs nodded glumly. “I didn't expect her to join up, honestly, but I was hoping we'd have a chance to convince her.”
“When you say 'convince', do you mean with careful, well-planned conversation, or with brainwashing?” Lucy asked.
Ecchs looked over at her. “Guess.”
“Right. Silly of me to ask, really.” Lucy nodded. “So why didn't you just do that to begin with?”
“Because brainwashing is notoriously unreliable. Trust me on this one, Lucy. Never have a brainwashed minion when there's a major operation in the works.” Ecchs raised a hand. “And before you ask, no, I'm not going to try and edit that one out of the Laws.”
“Why not?” Lucy shrugged. “Hell, for that matter, why haven't you just made it unlucky to be a superhero and had done with it?”
“That's really not the way that narrative law works.” Ecchs said slowly. “You have to realize that generally speaking, when I talk to you guys about it – Ada and Psiborg excepted – I am dumbing it down really, really far. Narrative is insanely complicated and interconnected, and it works by correlating thousands of isolated causes. I mean, I've modified things so that ambition and loyalty are good, and I've managed to edit out most of the parts where selfish deeds trigger karmic penalties, but it's a giant confused mess.”
“You told the world…” Shivarex started.
“I tell the world a lot of things.” Ecchs smiled. “No sense letting them know there are any vunerabilities in the grand design. Anyway, it's mostly true. We've got a massive, powerful narrative thread that exists only to keep our ability to manipulate reality safe. We've got an army of ninja robots that can be anywhere, in any plant on the planet – and within a few months, as he keeps spreading, he will be. We've got seven of the world's best supervillains, plus hundreds more lining up for the chance to get a favor from us. We've got the world's governments on their knees – between our taking out the American task force, and detonating the Russian nuke in its silo, I think they got the message.” He sat back in his chair. “There are still a few bugs to work out, sure. But that's half the fun. If we'd already won, we'd have nothing to do for the rest of our lives but sit back and relax in absurd luxury.”
“I could live with that.” Lucy pointed out.
“Feel free.” Ecchs waved his hand magnanimously. “Me, I'm going to start looking into crushing this rebellion, after which I can turn my attention to Sayleen.” He smiled broadly. “It's a big universe, after all. I've made it as king of the world. Why not expand?”