The Generic Villain on Abandonment

Evil’s often equated with pragmatism. We can afford to be pragmatic; we don’t have to worry all that much about keeping our cred by valuing every life, maintaining honor… you get the idea. Leaving people in the lurch because it’s not at all tactically, strategically, financially, or in any other way sound to go fetch them? Fair game. Or so you’d think: it’s not always the right decision, and often comes back to bite you. How do you determine when best to leave someone adrift?

As most of us have learned from our attempts to poach personnel from the good guys, abandonment is a side-changer. We’ve all seen it—the little hero who’s merely been misplaced by the rest of his party, assuming that they always know exactly where he is and thus that if they haven’t come back for him clearly it is because they do not want him, and how it takes so little convincing to turn this from the fear and resentment of being lost to a vendetta against those cold cruel protagonists. Problem is, this cuts both ways. If they can lose people due to leaving them behind, we run the risk as well—and due to Narrative Causality not playing favorites in our favor, we’re probably losing them for keeps. Even people who understand perfectly well that sometimes it is necessary to sacrifice one for the good of all tend to be a lot less appreciative of the concept when they’re the ones on the chopping block. And even the ones who don’t get scooped up by the heroes might go rogue rather than reporting back—particularly if this has already happened to them once and the last time, they came back in and we didn’t recognize them for their resilience.

Depending on who it is you’ve dropped, there’s also the PR hit. There are some people you just can’t ditch without someone getting upset with you. Sometimes it’s in-world: let me tell you, when someone’s just shown something verging on—gasp—heroics for the sake of your cause, the minions do not react well to your shunting them off anyway unless they themselves asked for it. (This is important; we’ll come back to it.) More often, it’s an across-the-Wall issue. Cut the cute thing’s strings in hostile territory? You’re a puppy-kicker. Drop anyone who has a name? How unnecessarily heartless!

How do we avoid the problems, then? First, choose the people we’re willing to put in situations where we might have to abandon them carefully. Try not to get anyone with a name or quirks—and even if you’re dealing with someone pretty generic, make sure they’re not alone. Single people in desperate situations tend to attract personality the same way honey attracts flies. Second, if you think there’s a chance they’re going to live, try to get them out of there (or rectify that little problem, but only if you know for sure you’ll succeed). The only way to know for sure they won’t turn on you when picked up by the other side is if they’re dead. Third, consider the emotional context. If there’s any way to get across that there is no other way and, whether you’re actually sorry or not, feign at least some reluctance to leave them like that, do so. It’s even better if they actually volunteer to be left—that makes them legends and us their appreciative employers.

Be careful whom you leave behind, and how you do so. You never know when it’s going to come back to haunt you.

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