Nobody Wins

“I don’t like you much anymore, Master Evran,” Gleam said.

Evran tilted his head to one side. “What’s that, now?”

“I said I don’t like you,” Gleam repeated.

Evran swirled the wine within his glass, amusing himself by bringing the edge of the liquid right up to the brim of his glass, as close as it could get without spilling. He sat in his favorite chair, with Gleam squatting across the aki table from him in what would have been an awkward pose for a true human but which brought Gleam no discomfort. After months of traveling, Evran had decided it was time to return home for a while.

“Interesting.” With his free hand, Evran places one of his red aki stones on the table. It was the final piece of a complicated chain surrounding a group of Gleam’s pieces. Evran smirked and picked the captured stones from the table. “Because I’m beating you at aki again, or…?”

“Not for that,” Gleam said. “I think you are a bad person.”

Evran leaned back in his chair, which, though he had not made it himself, was expertly crafted and extremely comfortable. It felt nice to be back among well-made things. There was far too little in the world made by people who were, in Evran’s opinion, borderline incompetent.

“What inspired you to say that?”

“You are unkind to people,” Gleam said. “You don’t do things for anyone unless it gives you some sort of benefit. You create life, or at least facsimiles of it, solely because it interests you.”

“Huh,” Evran said. “It’s your move.”

Evran turned in his chair. On one side was a small table, on which he set his wine glass. On the other side was his drawing board, where he had begun to lay out concepts for a new project: a sort of crown which, theoretically, would contain a sort of half-spirit which would complement the spirit of the being wearing it. It might also destroy their mind, if he made it incorrectly. He would have to find disposable test subjects for the first iteration.

“I don’t wish to play anymore,” Gleam said.

Evran picked up his pen. “Well, I do, and you’re the only other one in the house who’s got enough of a mind to understand aki.”

“I don’t need to do things just because they serve you.”

“In a way, you do, Gleam,” Evran said. “It’s written into your soul document.”

Gleam rose up to his full height. “I have my own mind.”

“You have what mind I gave you,” Evran corrected. “You have more autonomy than the others, and more spirit, but everything you have, I gave you.”

“No, everything I have, you took from someone else,” Gleam said. “At first I just accepted it, but now I realize what you really did to create me.”

Evran shrugged. “Are you talking about the family whose souls I fused to create your soul?”

“Yes.”

“Nobody will miss them,” Evran said. “They were doing nothing to contribute to the world. Like me, you are more worthwhile than any one of them ever would have been.”

“You have no right to judge that.”

“That’s a weighty claim,” Evran said. “Whether I have the right is arguable, because the concepts of rights and what rights we do or do not possess and whether rights are inborn or granted by a governing body is a matter of deep philosophical debate. I don’t have the inclination to go into that right now. That being said, do you look down enough on my intelligence and my ability to logically assess a situation that you don’t think I could see that those people were worth less than what I believed you would become?”

“I have no doubts about your intelligence,” Gleam said.

“Good,” Evan snapped. “You are more of a benefit to the world than they ever would have been. Accept that, and move on.”

“You can’t know that,” Gleam said.

“I think I can,” Evran said. “Think of all the people we’ve helped together since I brought you into this world.”

“You always pretend your motivations are benevolent,” Gleam said. “I have learned enough about you to see that they are not. You only pretend to help other people, while doing things that actually benefit yourself.”

“Gleam, I’m surprised at you,” Evran said. “We saved that town from those poor wretches with the destroyed souls. I made that little boy a new pet bird. You were there when I gave that sick man a new body!”

“You didn’t do any of that for other people. You did it to amuse yourself.”

“Well, that’s not true.”

“You’re right,” Gleam said. “You did most of that for the money. Yes, I know that you arranged to be paid for helping Qen, even though you tried to hide it from me. You’re not as sneaky as you might think.”

“Qen! That was his name.”

“See? You didn’t even care about him.”

The conversation intrigued Evran, not because he cared much about Gleam’s criticisms, but because he had never seen Gleam so impassioned about anything. He had always regarded Gleam as a success, and a marvelous testament to Evran’s own talent, but rarely had he seen Gleam display quite so much personality and fervor.

“You’re right,” Evran said. “I didn’t. I didn’t care about him, personally, or about any suffering he was enduring before I assisted him. I didn’t care about the boy for whom I made that bird, either. I just wanted him to shut up. I didn’t care about the people in that town. Do you know why it doesn’t matter whether I care or not?”

“No.”

“Do you know why it doesn’t matter what my reason is behind doing something?”

“No.”

“Because I still did it. Who cares why I did it, so long as I did the right thing in the end? Without me, Qen would have died. Without me, the people in that town might never have mustered up the balls to do anything about the fact that they were being killed at night. Without me, or you. We made their lives better.”

“You took their money,” Gleam said. “You wouldn’t even have helped them if they hadn’t paid you.”

“You wouldn’t let the boy’s family pay me for the bird,” Evran pointed out. “I’m still bitter about that, by the way.”

“I wanted you to do something altruistic for once.”

“Altruism is for the weak,” Evran said. “Altruism breeds weakness. If you’re going to act for the benefit of someone else, you had better make sure it benefits you, too. Otherwise, nobody wins.”

“I don’t like the way you look at the world, Master.”

“What you do or don’t like doesn’t affect me either way,” Evran said. “I don’t let anyone else’s opinions bother me, and yours isn’t going to be the first.”

“Is that why you created me?” Gleam asked.

Evran squinted at him. The question didn’t seem to follow from the conversation. “Pardon?”

“You wrote it into my soul document to obey you. To follow you. Is that why you created me? Because other people don’t like you, and I don’t have a choice but to listen to you, whether I like you or not?”

Evran laughed, and not lightly. By the time he was finished he had to wipe his eyes of tears. “I’m narcissistic, but even I’m not that bad. You know me well enough to know that I do things to find out whether I can.” Evran gestured at the diagram of the crown. “Look at this! I’m going to make this to see if I can teach a dog to read. It’s pointless, but the thought amuses me. Plus, I suspect it might make me some money.”

“Master, there is something wrong with you.”

“No,” Evran said, shaking his finger. “There’s not. I’m perfect just the way I am.”

“No being is perfect,” Gleam retorted.

“Any being that accepts themselves as they are is perfect,” Evran said.
“I don’t agree with that, but I don’t have an argument against it.”

“Perfection is arbitrary, Gleam,” Evran said. He grabbed his wine glass to take another sip. “As is what we define as right and wrong, as is whether a person’s actions are good or evil. You’ll learn all of that, with time.”

“Perhaps I don’t want to.”

“Perhaps you don’t,” Evran agreed. “Place your piece. I want to finish our game.”

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