Legion: Chapter 1
The room stank of death. A syrupy sweet odour melding with a brown, noxious rot. Sweat, blood, piss, and filth. It was all there. The blanket stench of the infirm.
Hospitals. If ever there were a place John Windsor loathed, it was hospitals. Prime Ministerial obligation was the only reason he inhabited one now, and the last time he had entered one voluntarily his granny Margaret gave in to the smoker’s curse and let lung cancer take her. He’d been twenty years old, but he remembered it as being the very last time he had cried. His Law degree completed not long after, he had begun his journey to the courtrooms, where emotion was a hindrance. Now, twenty years later he was the youngest Prime Minister of the 21st Century, the prospects of his own hospital stay still many years distant. Being faced with other people’s impending death was an unwelcome task, even if a necessary part of the job, and he was counting the minutes until he could leave.
A sycophantic nurse waddled over, a proud grin on her chubby face. No doubt she felt important, getting the job of shaking the PM’s hand, but the truth was she would be forgotten the moment he turned his back. Some people held such small ambition, yet he did not deny her the small moment of victory. Leaning forward, he paired the hearty handshake with a peck on the cheek that sent the woman giddy. He fought the urge to wipe his mouth on his sleeve afterwards.
The plump woman gushed. “We’re so glad to have you here, Prime Minister.”
John smiled, certain he could taste the woman’s sweat on his lips. “It’s my pleasure, Joan.” Good spot on the name badge. Plebs love it when you used their names. “It’s a wonderful job you’re doing here.”
“We do what we can. It’s a hard job, but so vital. We had our funding cut last-”
“Shall we take the tour?” said John, waving a hand towards the ward. Cramped tent cubicles filled it, and likely housed various dying occupants. So much money just to park the nearly dead. So inefficient.
“Oh yes, of course, the tour.” The nurse nodded. “This is the oncology ward where we care for stage 4 patients. I would introduce you to our guests, but most will be sleeping. Best not to disturb them.”
John nodded gravely although it was great news. He had held little desire to look upon the diseased. “Of course, Joan. You are an angel to these people.”
“Me? Oh no, I’m just one woman doing what she-”
“Shall we move on?”
“Yes, Prime Minister, of course. There is lots to see.”
And lots to see there was—a dreadful amount in fact. John endured over an hour of sweaty handshakes and prattling small talk. In the children’s ward, he had to go so far as to kiss a collection of clammy foreheads (his PR Secretary’s idea, not his). By the time John looped back around to where he had begun, exhaustion had set in. Two bodyguards accompanied him the entire time and looked just as bored as he was.
It was time to go.
John turned and gave the chubby nurse one last, sweaty handshake. This time he was powerless not to wipe his palm on the pocket of his blazer. Thankfully, the woman didn’t seem to notice, although Barry—one of his bodyguards—had to stifle a laugh. John gave his man a wry smile as he spoke out the corner of his mouth. “Thank you so much for having me, Joan. I will check in and see how you are doing again very soon, you can count on it. Give my love to your husband, David.”
The woman beamed. Simple tactic, asking about her family during the tour, and reciting it back to her now was enough to make her love him. People would eat shit with a smile if they thought you were feeding it only to them.
John’s bodyguards opened the fire door at the side of the hospital and stepped out before him. Their hands rested in their blazers, fingers on their guns. Not that they had ever needed to wield them. This was England, not Baghdad. All the same, his two burly men of action broke into panic now.
Something hit John in the chest, just over his heart, and when he looked down he saw a mess. Barry barrelled into him and covered him with his wide bulk. Meanwhile, Jeff launched himself forward at a stranger who John hadn’t even realised had been out there.
The scowling stranger yelled. “You’re a disgrace!”
John realised he was covered in egg, just as another one hit him. This time it hit square in the face, hurting John’s ego more than his flesh. So incensed was he that he released a bellowing war cry and threw himself at the egg-pitcher. Barry grabbed him and held him in place as if he were a twig—which wasn’t far from the truth. John’s strength came from his dark brown eyes, his precise words, and his booming voice, not his slender body and willowy limbs.
Jeff grabbed the stranger around the neck and dragged him away, but the crazed buffoon continued his tirade. “You’ll ruin this country,” he yelled. “The NHS will be in tatters by the time you finish stripping it for parts. My sister’s in there because she couldn’t get the help she needed a year ago. She’s dying because of you and your fucking government.”
Barry barked into his radio, alerting Special Branch. John shouted over him, putting his powerful voice into action. “You pathetic creature. You think throwing eggs will change things for your sister? Maybe if you had done something worthwhile with your life you might have earned enough money to pay for the operation yourself? Why should other people pay for it? Blame yourself.”
“I blame you!”
John regained a hold of himself and lowered his voice. Anger withdrew from his eyes. Just in time, too, as people had begun wandering into the backstreet to witness the kerfuffle. This would already be bad press, but him publicly berating a member of the public would make it even worse.
Time for a little damage control.
John looked upon the furious stranger and smiled compassionately. “I’m sorry for what you are going through, sir. My dear old grandmother died in hospital of cancer too. I vowed that very day, as a young man of twenty, that I would see an end to such a dreadful disease. You have my pledge that I will do everything within my power to have the NHS restored to its former glory. Your passion is to be admired, sir, and I understand your frustrations completely. Leave your details with my assistant and we will talk later.”
The egg thrower opened his mouth to speak, but was utterly confused. “Y-you’re a liar.”
John chuckled. “You caught me quite by surprise, but your concerns matter greatly to me, sir. I wish to help.”
“You can help my sister by-”
“I really must be going,” said John. He moved towards the black Mercedes that had suddenly appeared. The black Range Rover behind would be full of Special Branch ready to break this idiots arms if John ordered it, but there were too many spectators now. The true pleasure anyway was in spinning this fool’s attack into good press. It would be on the news within the hour, spun to portray him as the calm, passionate man his party worked so hard to make him. Idiots.
John waved quickly to the growing crowd of spectators, then allowed Barry to hustle him towards the car—as if it wasn’t his choice at all but something he fought against. The face he pulled suggested he would happily stay and greet people all day if he weren’t so frightfully busy.
Inside the Mercedes, the air conditioning was running and a glass of gin sat in the alcove beside the handle. John took the drink and waited for his bodyguards to get in beside him. Jeff slid in earnestly, but Barry let out a chuckle as soon as the doors were closed and they were on their way. “What a morning, aye, boss?”
John sipped his drink. “Just another day at the races. Bloody fools. What point did the idiot think he would make throwing eggs at me? At least do it somewhere there’s a crowd. Not a single person even saw him do it.”
“They saw your recovery though. You deserve an Oscar.”
“An Oscar?” He waved a hand. “Pah, anything American isn’t worth having.” He fiddled with his silver cufflinks as he expressed other concerns. “Hopefully, there were no cameras on us that caught the whole thing. You never bloody know these days.”
Barry eased back in the seat as if there was nothing to worry about. “I doubt it. Even if, they wouldn’t have sound. You got a bit red faced, but what man wouldn’t when pelted by eggs?”
A beeping sound invaded the car’s interior, making them look at one another. Jeff pulled out his phone and glanced at the screen. “They have the egg thrower in custody. Shall I tell them to let him go?”
John gave his bodyguard a stare that made the bigger man shrink. “You must be joking. The man assaulted the leader of his country. You’d be shot for doing such a thing in some countries. No, I want the man charged to the full extent. Prison time if possible. Community Service if not. The man believes things come for free, so let’s see how he likes giving his time away for nothing. You have to love irony.”
“Is there a problem, Jeff?”
“No, it’s just… the man was just upset about his sister. Maybe you could-”
John leaned forwards. “Throw him a bone, perhaps?”
John glared at the man, letting him know he’d overstepped his boundaries. Jeff was new, but he would learn. “Okay, I’ll show some compassion. Barry, please tell my secretary to find out the name of the man’s sister and send a bouquet of flowers.” He looked at Jeff. “Good enough? No? Okay… Barry, make it a really big bouquet.”
Barry broke into hysterics. “Right-o, boss.”
Jeff stayed quiet for the remainder of the journey.
John was glad to get back to Downing Street an hour or so later. He had meetings all day, but most were with lackeys who would do little to annoy him. He would keep one eye on the news—to see if anything came of his morning altercation with the egg thrower—but the day would fly by. Tomorrow morning, he had a meeting with an American health care provider vying to pick the final morsels from the NHS’s corpse. They were welcome to it, so long as their pockets were deep enough. The time of free health care was over. It hadn’t been sustainable since the population boom in the sixties. People needed to take responsibility for their own lives in today’s world. The free lunches were finished. No tyrant ruled over them—they all had the chance to make something of their lives. No more excuses.
John went into his office and sat down in his high-backed leather chair—a kind gift from the Italian PM. He liked its size—tall like he was. An imposing, yet sophisticated piece to cement his position at the head of an empire—his throne. And make no mistake, Britain was still an empire, albeit it financially now rather than martial.
John had just pulled a sheath of papers from his in-tray when the buzzer went on his intercom. He accepted the call. “Yes?”
No answer. Only a crackling hiss.
“Stephanie, are you there? Stephanie, you best not be interrupting me for no reason.”
The line went dead. John leaned across his desk and prodded a finger at the black, plastic intercom. It hissed at him. “Chinese piece of crap!”
“I believe it was made it the USA,” said a voice in the room.
John shot back in his seat. “What the…?”
A well-dressed gentleman smiled politely at him from the back of the room. Donning an old-fashioned, yet impeccable suit, the stranger’s aquiline face was indifferent. Pointing to the intercom, he nodded. “Motorola, see? I believe they are based in the United States.”
“Who the Hell?”
The man grinned. “Who the Hell, indeed. My name is Oscar Boruta. They call me the Toy Maker, but that’s of no consequence. My time is short and I am here only as emissary.”
“Emissary for whom? How did you get past security? If you’re another of those bloody imbeciles from the anti-fracking commission I will—”
“Silence! I am not here to discuss trifling matters. My intention is to present to you an offer.”
John was unnerved, and he realised that it had led to him humouring this intruder when he should have been slinging him out. He sat up straight in his chair and pointed a finger to his door. “You can a bloody well make an appointment like everybody else. You do not barge into the office of Prime Minister. I am this country’s leader.”
“You lead nothing—a shepard of sickly sheep and mewing lambs.”
John stood up, fists clenched. “How dare you! I’ll have you-”
“Hear my offer,” said the gentleman. “And then I’ll leave you to your impotent bluster.”
John wondered how the man could be so brazen, to walk in here and talk to the PM in such manner. He seemed to possess utter conviction about being there, and that he should be listened to. But his eyes cold, grey flare betrayed his calm expression. The old man was dangerous.
“You have thirty-seconds, Mr Boruta.”
“I need only one.” With that the elderly man lunged forwards and gripped John’s skull between his bony fingers, squeezing so hard that he saw stars.
Boruta glared into John’s eyes. “Take a look at what is coming.”
And John did see.
He saw it all. What was coming, and what would be.
When Boruta finally let go of his skull, John was sweating and panting. It seemed like he had been trapped in a nightmare for days, but he knew it had been mere seconds. He gawped at the old man standing before him and realised the truth—that this was no man at all. His cold, grey eyes were devoid of life—of anything that made a man human.
“Well,” said Boruta. “What is your answer?”
John was too shaken to speak at first. After a long swallow, he was able to say, “Yes, yes, I will serve him.”