"Why recruit /me/?" said Morgan. "It's not like other recruits got the hard sell. They came here on their own, but I've got a director bringing me to see somebody from the executive council? That doesn't make sense."
Cohen shrugged. "You brought this on yourself, kid."
A video began to play on the wallscreen, a scene from a memory. An apartment ablaze, two women huddled together with their children, and a /shape/ that did not belong looming over them. Cohen paused the video. "This ring any bells?"
"Yeah, but what's that got to do with anything?"
"You asked 'why me'. The answer is /because you were there/. It had to happen to somebody, and you didn't have the sense to get out of the way. It would have been easy. All you had to do was avert your eyes and tell yourself it wasn't your problem. Nobody would have blamed you; there were actual firefighters and paramedics on the scene. But you couldn't bear to be a bystander. You /had/ to step up. You rushed into that burning building, killed a demon, and saved four lives. Congratulations, asshole, you're a hero."
"I was just trying to do the right thing. Somebody had to try to rescue those people, and nobody else would."
"The actual professionals, the people who knew what they were doing, crunched the numbers and decided the odds of getting any of them out alive without losing firefighters and paramedics weren't favorable enough to justify the attempt," said Cohen. "And they were right. They were only human."
"So am I."
"Don't bullshit me, kid. I know what you really are. You're a 100-series einherjar, manufactured by the AsgarTech Corporation, your design commissioned by the Phoenix Society. The very last out of six hundred and sixty-six. You could have figured the odds as easily as those firefighters. You /knew/ it was a bad idea to cross that threshold, but you said 'fuck it' and did it anyway."
"/Somebody/ had to."
"That's what you said then, too. Somebody had should have, but nobody else would. Well, somebody ought to stand up to tyranny and most people won't. Most people /can't/. They don't have the heart. Adversaries do, and so do you."
"But Arms Control needs men, too. I could be an asset there as a Peacemaker without having to hurt anybody."
"You're right," said Cohen. "You could, but that's not you. You were made, not born. You were designed to stand against odds that would break armies. You're einherjar, an army of one. But there's something in your psyche that isn't part of the design, an X factor that the people working on Project Einherjar hoped would arise as you kids grew up. Do you know what it is?"
Cohen shook his head. "Courageous people are afraid, but face their fear and act despite it. Adversaries need something more, because they're not just attorneys at war; they're knights in Satan's service doing a thankless job that nonetheless needs doing, and you've got it. You are /defiant/. You look at tyranny, corruption, and senseless death and you aren't content to politely say 'no'. You say, 'Hell no!'." Warming to his theme, Cohen shook his fist in their air. "You're the kind of guy who, if you were struck by lightning, would flip off the heavens and yell, 'Is that the best you've got? Try again, motherfucker!'"
"You think so?" said Morgan. "That sounds more like foolhardiness to me."
"Yeah? Let's talk about that." The screen changed to show a group of men in suits playing poker. "Remember these assholes?"
"Yeah. They were hitting people in my neighborhood up, saying they needed to pay extra for insurance. Police wouldn't do anything, because the racketeers were giving them a cut." Morgan indicated one of the men. "That scumbag ran the local police precinct."
"You could have reported this to the Phoenix Society."
"You would have spent months investigating, building a case. There are people in my neighborhood who couldn't afford to pay these assholes while you did that."
"They would have gotten restitution."
"Oh, sure," said Morgan. "I can't pay rent this month because I had to pay off gangsters, but I'll pay you when the Phoenix Society pays restitution. You really think that's gonna fly? Something had to be done then and there, not once you people were ready to give these pusbags due process."
"Right, so you walk in and give these assholes a fucking civics lesson." Lifting the remote, Cohen started the video.
"Hey, kid," said the man with the fanciest suit. "You here by mistake or something?"
"I think the mistake is on your part," said Morgan on video. "Nobody elected you. No constitution enumerates your powers or provides any decent restraint. You have no authority to collect taxes or to force my neighbors to pay for 'insurance', and if you do not immediately cease and desist I will remand you to the Phoenix Society's custody."
"You and what army?"
"There are only ten of you. Every exit is sealed. The only way out is through me, and you can't all come at me at once. You dare not use your guns lest a ricochet injure or kill you or one of your associates."
"There's a hole in your reasoning. Ever hear of frangible ammunition?" The leader reached into his jacket, pulled a semiautomatic, and fired. Morgan's visual field shimmered for a moment as he shielded himself, and birdshot clattered against the floor. "So, you're one of those einherjar. Nice shield, kid. Do you really think it's gonna hold against all of us?"
On cue, the other men pulled their weapons and opened fire. Morgan rode out the firestorm, not letting his shield fade until every slide locked on an empty chamber. Then, as the men made to reload, he sprang into action. Holding his place in time, he leaped onto the table, disarming one man at a time and disassembling their pistols in rapid succession before returning to his original position in the doorway. Once Morgan let go of his place in time, the men stared at their empty hands before staring at him. "Who the hell /are/ you?"
Cohen froze the video again. "You see this shit? This is why we want you. You can face down assholes like these unarmed and come away unscathed. Also, you did everything short of dressing up as a goddamn bat. We can't tolerate vigilantes, especially if they're bloody einherjar, but if we can't stop you then we might as well put you on the fucking payroll."
"And if I refuse?" Not that Morgan had any intention of refusing. Getting paid to go after people who abused their power and made life suck for everybody else sounded like the best deal he was likely to get. In between cases he could practice his guitar and study music theory.
"If you refuse, we'll run you through a fuckin' meat grinder and use you for chum. We can't have you operating without decent restraint. Your methods are unsound because you're untrained, you know bugger-all about the law, and you the only evidence you had was jack and shit—and Jack just fucked off to Ibiza for some R&R."
"Do you enjoy sounding like a stock character in a war movie?"
"Do you enjoy having a boot up your arse?" Cohen leaned forward, staring Morgan down. "'Cause einherjar or not I'm gonna plant mine so far up yours you'll be able to lick it clean. You might think you're a badass, but all you've got going for you right now is brute force and ignorance. You're like that cat who walks through walls because nobody got around to telling the little furball he's not supposed to be able to do that."
Covering his mouth, Morgan stifled a yawn. Though it had not been intentional, he understood the message it would send. It made plain the fact that the old soldier's posturing did little to impress him. There was nothing for it but to lean in. "Are you done trying to convince me that you've got the biggest dick?"
"I've already convinced your mother, kid."
"Better you than me." Cracking a joke about screwing her mother might have upset other young men, but Morgan had already cut his ties and dynamited the bridge behind him. "Somebody ought to, but I'm not about to step up and take on that burden."
"Good. You've got some emotional control. We might be able to make an Adversary out of you yet."
"You heard me," said Cohen. He leaned back in his chair. "You'll get instructions on where to show up by text message tomorrow, along with what possessions you can bring with you. In the meantime, go get laid or something. You won't have time for any of that until you're sworn in."
An approving nod from Cohen. "That's fine for now, but some of your instructors will be North American Commonwealth Marines before Nationfall. They'll expect every sentence out of your mouth to begin and end with 'sir'. You'll come to hate them—everybody does—but that'll be fine as long as you say, 'Sir. Go fuck yourself, sir.'"
No time like the present to get used to it, though he hoped it was only part of the discipline imposed on recruits and not a ritual formula that would haunt him throughout his service as an Adversary. "Sir. Yes, sir."