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Chapter 26
5 Sp'mo' (Penul'day)

1

They got back to the living area of the cavern complex a bit before Third One. They were greeted by Lucia, who asked, "Did you kids have fun today?"

"Yes, Mom," said Luni, Kar, and Tor in unison.

"That's good. What about you, Dare? Are you enjoying the family reunion?"

"Oh... yeah. You know me, I'm kind of not good at showing emotion, but I really am glad to spend time with my cousins. I suppose I should... try to spend time with the adults, too... but it's hard, because I don't really see myself as an adult, for the most part."

"Well, no, I understand that... but you really should try. We're all glad to have you here. Finally."

"I suppose I'll see everyone at dinner, anyway. When is that, by the way?"

"Not for a couple of hours, yet. I think your parents were going to try to get word to Monn and Ani about your return, so they can come see you, too."

"Oh. Okay. Honestly, it's hard for me to understand the point of anyone wanting to see me, since I'm no good at joining in the kind of conversations that interest other people. But I'll try. Anyway, is there anything I can do to help prepare for the meal, or anything?"

"No, I think it's under control. You and the kids just find something to do."

"How about another game of Kaiju Cards?" suggested Karamazov.

"I don't know if it's a good idea to be monopolizing the table before supper," said Lucia.

"Don't worry," said Joss, "I'll make sure we get things cleared away in plenty of time."

"Okay, then."

So, they went about their game. About an hour and a half later, Lucia returned to tell them it was time to put their cards away. The kids grumbled about that, because the game was almost finished, but would take more than a few centhours, which was the their mother was willing to allow. It seemed a shame to just stop the game so close to the end. Even Joss seemed to have trouble convincing them.

Darius said, "Look at it this way. Imagine that all these years the clan had been playing one big game of hide-and-seek. And it might take a few more years before the game was finished, but then... someone tells you to end the game early. There'd be no winner, but you could all go into town for the first time ever. Would you insist on continuing the game anyway?"

"Good point," said Luni. "Okay, guys, let's put the game away. That way we're all winners... 'cause we get to have dinner."

"Okay," said Kar, "but you all know I was totally gonna win."

Once the table had been cleared, the servants brought out the food and dishes. Everyone took the same seats they'd used the previous night, but this time there were two more people at the table. Tino, Tiejo, Cameron, and Emma were all introduced to Monn and Ani; Tom, Alecstar, Ginger, and Jasp had already met them, in town.

As he sat, Jasp looked past a few of the people on his left, and said to Darius, "Well, I hope our fearless leader has enjoyed his day off, while the rest of us have continued working on his little rebellion."

Darius was stung by this, and couldn't think of a response. He felt the gangster was right to take that tone, but still.... However, even if he'd had a response, he wouldn't have had time to utter it before Tom replied, "I can't disagree with you that it's important for Darius to concentrate on more important matters. But even I don't begrudge him a day or two to get caught up with family he's thought dead for all these years. I mean, I can tell you for a fact, both my parents are dead, and no chance of having some surprise encounter with them, like has happened for Darius. Nor did I ever have any siblings, or any extended family, cousins and all. So... I'm just happy for him. There's time enough for rebellion later."

Jasp sighed, and said, "You're right, of course." Looking to Darius again, he continued, "I'm happy for you too, Darius. And I really do wish there was more time for you to stay here, but you know how quickly events were moving before we left Tanq, and that was a few days ago. I've just spent the day talking with Don Amalgamator and her chief spy, learning whatever I could of events since our hasty departure. After dinner, I think those of us involved in the Chaos should meet privately, along with your father, and discuss matters, get caught up on the current situation, and work on plans for the immediate future."

"Of course," said Darius. "It's been nice to relax, recharge my spirit. I tell you, this respite has done wonders for me, and for my resolve. While I'd like to spend at least a week here, I think we should move on again in a couple of days, at most. And until then, we'll definitely work on our plans. Count on it."

"About that," said Monn. "Something I wanted to mention, when Adam told me about your plans. You know I run a garage, and a lot of people who come to me needing repairs on their vehicles may have no way of getting to and from work, while their wagon or what have you is in the shop. Some jobs may even require a vehicle to do the work itself, not just to get to their work. Thing is, rental vehicles, as well as public transportation, cost so much that a lot of them can't afford it. They might go to the bank for a loan, but they can't afford to repay that, either, if they're barely getting by as it is. It's just outrageous, for example, that what rental places charge per day for a wagon can be ten times or more what a monthly payment on a wagon they're buying outright would break down to per day. I'm just wondering if there's anything you could do about that, if you manage to start some new government, or whatever it is. Like, put a price cap on what places can charge for necessary services."

"Actually, I've been thinking about that kind of thing, myself," said Darius. "Transportation's not the top of my list; I'm probably most interested in price caps on hospital bills. I once talked to someone who said he went to a hospital for something he wasn't completely sure needed attention, but someone else had told him it could get bad, in time. So this guy waited about an hour before a physician looked at him for five centhours, then told him to let it heal on its own. Then he got a bill for as much as he earned in a week. That is, after taxes, which people didn't have to worry about before the Coming. Anyway, you can imagine what it costs when doctors actually do something for a patient."

"Well now, wait a centhour," said Ani. "You have to understand, it's getting harder to be a physician, these days. First of all, you can't just study medicine under a single master, like in the old days. Some people who started working as physicians prior to the Coming have been certified based on their original education, while others have been forced to take new courses, which they can't always afford. I've heard of some perfectly competent doctors who ended up on the streets, since the Coming. And any new doctors have to first graduate one of the primary schools the Order established after the Coming, before they can even think of studying medicine. And again, it means they have to go to a university, unless they can find an independent master who's been accredited by a university, even if they don't actually have to work for such a school. Meanwhile, more regulations are being passed all the time, about how to practice medicine. And word is Congress is working on setting up a new Health Department, which would give government even stricter control of hospitals than ever. And the new laws that have come about in recent years affect not just physicians and hospitals, but also apothecaries, which drives up the price of drugs. And there's the simple fact that the population continues to grow, which means there are always more people needing treatment than there used to be. And people these days feel more entitled to walk into a hospital for any little thing, which sounds like what you were talking about. A physician's time is valuable, even if they do nothing for a patient; that's time they could be spending on someone who actually needs their help..."

"Yes, I know all that," said Darius. "Well, some of it. Certainly I agree that a doctor's time is valuable, but it's insane to think five centhours of doing nothing is worth as much as a whole week of someone with a less important job working their ass off. That's all I'm saying."

"Well, I admit, that does sound a bit excessive. I'm not sure the hospital where I work would do that. But it's not just the doctor's time, either. There are receptionists, nurses, overhead that the administration has to pay for, and so on. And there's also the fact that since courts were established, people have a greater tendency to sue anyone they feel has wronged them in any way. Especially hospitals. Part of any bill is earmarked specifically for legal defense, in case it ever becomes necessary. And they can't just use money from a single patient's bill to cover defense against a single lawsuit, considering how much lawyers charge-"

"Hey now," said Kuris. "Don't forget Lucia and I are lawyers."

"But you haven't practiced since the war," said Ani.

"Okay," said Darius, "the cost of everything in life has gone up since the Coming ended. And taxes are the cherry on top of the sundae. And don't even get me started on banks."

"Are you forgetting that my mother's a banker?" asked Emma.

Darius couldn't help laughing. "I guess it's impossible to talk about any occupation without offending someone."

Emma grinned. "It's okay. Actually, that's one reason I've always disagreed with my family about the Second Order. I could plainly see that for all the advances it brought to the world, it also set up a vicious circle that makes it impossible for anyone to make a living without raising their prices, which causes someone else to do so, which causes someone else to do so, and so on. Although, banks have also proven helpful in some ways. Maybe they could-" and she suddenly turned to Tom as she said, "or maybe someone like Dex or his partner could... well, maybe some company or other could come up with a way of... helping people set aside money for emergencies." She turned back to Darius and continued, "I'm sure people did that themselves, before the Coming. And even after the tax law was passed, I believe it was a few years before employers started withholding taxes from regular paychecks, to make it easier for employees than it had been the first few years, when they just had to save on their own. So... if saving for other purposes could be handled by professionals instead of individuals... I dunno. Just a thought."

"It's a good thought," said Darius. "The trouble is, as Monn mentioned earlier, added expenses can be unfeasible, when people are barely getting by. I admit withholding taxes is a good thing, because if it wasn't done, most people would be unable to save on a regular basis, and then on Tax Day they'd be screwed. But at the same time, having that money withheld means they just don't have that much left over for saving. I suppose people could save if they didn't consider any of their income disposable; but what's life if you only spend on what's absolutely necessary? Everyone needs entertainment, everyone needs to make the occasional insignificant impulse purchase. It's like Rune Parallelogram said: 'If you can afford a bottle of birch beer, you are in Heaven.' But a lot of people who can afford such a thing, would have to give up even things like that, just to save a few shillings here and there. And even if they cut out all such expenses, so that their lives were utterly devoid of simple pleasures, what it amounted to still would be unlikely to cover most major unexpected expenses that might arise. So either way, whether they save or not, they'll end up screwed, when the time comes. I for one would rather enjoy life as much as possible, until that time, if not enjoying it isn't going to make a real difference, anyway. And the thing is, even if some outside source is helping them save, so they don't have to do it themselves... the money they set aside is money they can't afford to set aside. And that's the middle class, I'm talking about. The lower class, often times, can't afford small luxuries, to begin with. They're lucky if they get their bills paid on time, and keep themselves fed."

There were a few moments of silence, when he finished. Then Emma asked, "But it was a good thought, though. Right?"

With a wry grin he replied, "Oh, yeah, totally. Like I said." His grin faded as he sighed and continued, "It's a shame, but it seems like for most people, there's just no way to ensure they'll be able to survive unexpected-"

"Insurance!" exclaimed Emma suddenly.

"Huh?"

"Sorry, it's just when you used the word 'ensure', my subword sense kicked in and I thought of a related word from Earth."

Darius let his own subword sense roll over the word 'insurance', and he soon agreed, "Yep, that sounds like what we were talking about. Nice to be able to put a word to the concept I'd just finished rejecting."

Emma stuck out her tongue.

Darius grinned again, and turned back to Monn. "So yeah, anyway. I'll see what I can do. About prices on transportation, medicine, secondary education... anything the Second Order has ensured the majority can't afford when they need it."

Monn laughed. "Good enough."

2

After dinner, as they were all standing up from the table, Joss said, "If you don't mind delaying your talks a centhour, Darius, I'll get you that book I mentioned earlier."

"Oh, sure." Turning to his father, he said, "I'll be right with you all, okay?" And he followed his cousin to his room.

Darius looked around at all the books on shelves, and said, "This is a nice collection. Have you read them all?"

"Most of them. But there are always more to read. Anyway..." he went to one of the shelves, and retrieved a set of books, which were combined in one case. "Actually, it was a set of three books you had lent me," he said as he handed them to Darius.

Darius's eyes widened just a bit. "Oh, right, these! I can't believe I'd forgotten. Some of the greatest Earth books ever written. So, you liked them, right?"

"Oh, absolutely. They're just amazing. I've read them a few times over the years, actually, and they get better every time. I just love the complexity and in-depth history of the world Tolkien created."

"Hmmm. I only ever got through them once, and it took me a long time. As much as I loved them, they did seem to move pretty slowly. But I'd definitely like to reread them, when I have a chance. Which, I'm afraid, won't be for awhile, yet." The two of them walked to Darius's room, where he put the books on a mostly empty shelf. "One thing I do remember is that my father gave me the books... I suppose you know his old company was named after something in the story."

"'Lembas,' right. It's a shame he had to give up his position in his own company."

"Yeah, but that's what happens when you fake your death, I guess. Still, that's one more reason I want to change the world enough for you all to come out of hiding. Maybe there's a chance he could reclaim his company. Anyway... if you ever want to read the books again, feel free to take them. Just return them when you're done. Because I will be coming back, at some point."

"Of course. Oh, and in case you hadn't noticed, there's a box of some of your other old books, in the closet. Maybe you'll want to put them on the shelf, too." Then Joss held up a binder, and said, "Um, so, these are some of my own stories. I'm sorry they're handwritten, I hope you can make out my writing. It's a shame we don't have a printing press..."

Darius grinned and said, "Few people do. Even nobles. Even nobles who aren't in hiding, and supposedly dead." He accepted the binder from his cousin. "But I look forward to reading them. And if all goes well, maybe it won't be too long before you have a chance to submit your work for possible publication."

Joss smiled, and said, "Thanks, coz. Now, go join everyone. The sooner you start planning, the sooner this new world you keep promising can come about."

Darius set the binder down on a writing desk, and they both returned to the den. Joss found a seat next to Nelly, near the fireplace. Darius sighed wistfully, and followed his father and the others to the study. Back to reality, he thought....

Everyone- Adam, the Chaos members, and Sidney- found a comfortable place to sit in Adam's study, which was much as Darius remembered his father's old study. Back when they still had an estate, above ground, with actual buildings. All that was gone, now, but the room in which he currently found himself was a remarkable recreation. Meanwhile, as he and his friends looked around, they all mentally compared it to George Taverner's study. Adam's was a bit better-appointed, but not terribly dissimilar. Darius wondered how they could have gotten some of the furniture; it hardly seemed like it could have been transported from town without anyone noticing that it was being taken to an estate that no longer existed. But he supposed if they managed to drive wagons back and forth, as they had done earlier today, they must have some kind of plan to deal with the issue, so he put the question out of his mind.

Once they'd all been seated, Emma spoke up. "Excuse me, sir," she said, glancing at Adam, "but before we begin, something's been nagging at me, and I've only just figured out what exactly it was." She turned to Darius, and asked, "Didn't you say you'd been back here, soon after the war? You looked around at the remnants of the old estate."

"Yes," said Darius.

Turning back to Adam, she asked, "Well, what I'm wondering is, why didn't anyone come out at that point, eight years ago, and tell him you all were alive?"

Darius was startled by this question, himself. He hadn't thought of that. He turned with a questioning look to his father.

Adam sighed, and closed his eyes for a few moments. Then he looked briefly at Emma, before fixing his gaze on his son. "At the time, we were still very deeply in hiding, moreso than we are now. Most of us were in a deep part of the tunnels. Everything you've seen since you came here, the rooms, the furnishings, all that, even things you haven't seen yet... well, most of it hadn't been built or dug out yet. We were lucky to have some lights, some blankets and pillows... a few holes in the ground for latrines, if you'll excuse the image. Well, there was a storage cave for some of our possessions and treasure, but no proper rooms yet, no place to put anything. Most of our things had been left behind, anyway. We didn't want to give the estate an un-lived-in appearance, for fear of arousing suspicion.

"Of course, we were still fearful of being discovered, and there was talk of simply slipping out a distant, unwatched end of the tunnel, and running away, hoping to live in obscurity somewhere. But we wanted to stay here, and anyway, we didn't yet feel safe making such an attempt. Wanted to let the heat die down, as it were. Meanwhile, we had a few servants watching various entry points, keeping an eye on things above ground. One of those servants did in fact see you and your uncle West, that day the two of you came. He was unsure what to do; certainly, he wouldn't make the decision to contact you on his own initiative, so after some internal deliberation, he finally decided to leave his post, and seek me out.

"When he returned, with your mother and me, we all watched you, and wanted to make an appearance, to let you know we were alright. Your mother and I, we talked about it in a hurried and emotional fashion. But we weren't sure that the place wasn't being watched, from somewhere more distant, somewhere just outside our range of observation. Still, we finally decided we couldn't bear not to try, and had just told the servant to exit the tunnel, while the two of us hung back... when suddenly, before he could open the trap door in the sod overhead, someone else appeared. The three of us waited, hoping he would leave... but in the end, you and West left at roughly the same time that he did. It was too late. We'd missed our chance." Adam finished speaking, and hung his head.

Darius seemed lost in thought for a few moments, before he finally said, "Benj. I can't believe I'd forgotten. Damn."

"Who's Benj?" asked Emma.

"Benj Illustri. He was sort of a friend, growing up. Actually, more of an academic rival. There weren't schools, per se, as there are now, but several affluent families employeed a few of the same masters, of various subjects. So a group of children would gather together for their lessons. Benj and I were the two top students in the group, and often competed for the highest ranks. The rivalry was what you might call friendly, but the relationship itself... I think you'd call us 'frienemies.' We certainly disagreed on various matters. And during the Coming of the Order... well, his father, and basically his whole clan, sided with the Order...."

"Wait," said Star. "Was his father Xander? After the surname law was passed, I heard Xander had chosen the name 'Illustri.' Are you saying you were friends- or frienemies- with the son of Xander Illustri?"

Darius turned to the ex-army major. "Yes, Xander is his father. I don't really know anything much specifically about his involvement in the war, but I think he may have had a hand in establishing the surname law. I remember the clan using the name 'Illustri' even before the war really got going, though of course it wouldn't have been official until the law was passed in 904. Or technically 905, when the first census was conducted... But if that particular law had always been part of the Plan, it makes me wonder how deeply he was connected with the Order, in the first place."

Star just shook his head and mumbled something unintelligible to himself.

Darius stared at him for a moment, before turning back to Emma. "Anyway, his clan's estate was next to ours. You could call us neighbors, but of course, all the 'noble' clans had so much space that it's not like you could really see each other's houses clearly, at least without some kind of spyglass. But... I guess he'd noticed West and me as we approached our estate on the main road, and then walked over to talk to me. In fact, I think we were about to leave when he showed up. I wasn't really in the mood to talk to him, or anyone, for that matter, but... well, basically he expressed his condolences. I don't remember what exactly he said. I don't think it made me feel any better at the time. It probably annoyed me, if anything. But later, when I thought back on it, I decided that in that moment he'd been more friend than enemy. And... I think when I told you about visiting the estate, right after I started this journey with you guys, I also mentioned looking in some of my old hiding places for stuff from my play-adventures, and suddenly feeling it was childish." Emma nodded, and Darius continued, "Well, I kind of ended up feeling that way about my rivalry with Benj, as well. Just silly childishness." Darius looked down as he added, "He could never be one of my best friends, but... yeah, a friend, anyway, of whatever degree. And it's a shame I've never seen or heard from him again, as I have with some of my other friends." He sighed.

"Yes," agreed Adam, "that is a shame. I understand, you know; there are any number of old friends who still think I'm dead, and I wish I could see them again. On the other hand, there are a few friends I am in touch with, though I feel bad about asking them to keep things secret from some of our mutual friends...." He trailed off for a few moments, before shaking his head and continuing. "Anyway, speaking of the friends who know I'm alive, I met with some of them today, so, unless anyone has more questions about the past, we should get down to current business." He waited a few moments, looking around the room at those assembled.

"Actually," said Darius, "something occurred to me today. If you have a glamour that allows you to go out in public, why can't anyone else in the family? Especially the kids, who haven't been off the estate in years, and some never at all?"

"First I should say I don't have the only glamour mask. Your mother has one, as do Monn, Ani, and Barat. Lance also had one, but he hasn't used it since moving to Shanty. So his has become a spare, which may be used by others, if the need arises. Which it seldom does. Anyway, we obtained these six glamours from a Sorreter ally prior to enacting our plan... I should say, building these tunnels wasn't the only part of that plan. We also established new identities for ourselves some time prior to the final battle. Monn even 'sold' his garage to his own alias, Al. But it's not like the glamours were cheap, nor were they quickly or easily made. There simply wasn't the time for our ally to make enough for everyone. And I'm afraid we haven't had contact with any Sorreters, since the battle. Which I suppose it to be expected, since all our allies vanished without a trace." Adam glanced briefly at Cameron, but knew better than to ask about their location.

Once again, Adam looked around at each of his guests. "Any other questions?"

This time, Tom spoke up. "I've been kind of wondering why you all didn't come out of hiding, when the Declaration of Amnesty was passed."

Before Adam could respond, Sidney said, "I can answer that one. First of all, I should say that the clan had provided rather large bonuses to their entire serving staff. Anyone was allowed to quit, prior to the impending Battle of Triscot, which everyone knew would be upon us soon. Well, 'allowed' isn't the right word; obviously anyone could quit at any time, for any reason, without waiting for permission. But I mean to say... Adam made a point of letting everyone know it would be in their best interests, as he couldn't guarantee their safety if they stayed. And if they did stay, they'd be expected to aid in the battle, when it came. Anyway, some of the servants took his advice, and started looking for other employment. But others of us... well, we looked for employment, too, but as a cover. Obviously, if the Protestants lost the battle and the clan were all killed, it would look suspicious if we didn't have new sources of income, and new residences.

"I myself took a job working for Xander Illustri, but only after the battle. It was while working in his home one day that I overheard his older son, Macen, talking with that crazy friend of his... what was his name? Something with a 'Z', I think. Zeb? Zack? Anyway, something like that. Macen was telling him that his father had said he'd be surprised if Adam hadn't found some way of escaping. In fact, that's part of the reason his father had hired me: thought I might know something, might slip up and reveal something. I was surprised when the young man said these things, and a bit concerned, as you can imagine. But of course I never would have said anything to make Xander suspect that Adam and his clan were still alive. Not sure where he got that idea, but I suppose as much as he hated and thought Adam foolish, he didn't think him stupid. It's not so far-fetched to guess he might have had an escape plan. On the other hand, he might have thought anyone who treats servants as equals is weak, and therefore too cowardly to actually fight a war. He probably thought Adam was all talk. And even I must admit, I can see where it would seem that way to an outside observer, if they became aware of the escape plan. But I assure you: I was there. I didn't take part in the battle myself, but I saw it, and Adam, as well as many of those who survived and those who died, all fought bravely, up until the point it was clear defeat was inevitable. I'm sure some of them, especially Adam, would still have gone on fighting, even knowing it meant their death, but for the fact that they had people who needed them. The children, and those few adults who stayed in the secret tunnels looking after them during the battle, would need all the support they could get, in the days, or years to follow. So those who fought, and survived, finally did make their escape, for the good of the family as a whole.

"But I do digress, don't I? Where was I going with this? Oh, right: Xander Illustri. Well, whatever made him suspect Adam might be alive- and I'm not saying he thought it likely, but even if it was possible, the thought clearly galled him. And he knew that whoever won the election would most likely declare amnesty for the losers. He couldn't abide the idea of Adam opposing the Order, losing, and then just going back to life as usual. No, if Adam lost, Xander wanted him to really lose, you understand? So, what I heard Macen telling that friend, who, by the way, was a Sorreter- well known for being deranged, at least known by certain people, so I'd heard from one of the Protestant Sorreters we met before the battle... What Macen was telling him was that his father had asked if the two of them might arrange some way of dealing with Adam or any of his kin, discreetly, should they turn out to have survived. This, by the way, was some time before the day Darius and West showed up. I believe the remains of the estate were being watched for some time, by people working for Macen- who was by then a military spy for the Order, you know. They'd given up before you two returned," he said with a glance at Darius, "so if Benj hadn't shown up, it probably would have been safe for your parents to come out. Of course, I'm sure Benj had no idea about any of this. But the point is, I did occasionally manage to get in touch with Adam, who had prior to the battle used his glamour to establish himself a new identity as a smuggler named Evan Wayfarer. I told him anything I ever heard in Xander's house, including what I've just told you. So, we all knew it wouldn't be safe for any of them to come out of hiding, even if there would be no legal repercussions for their part in the war."

"Wow," said Tom. "Still... eight years... don't you think they'd have better things to do, by now? Surely Macen and that crazy Sorreter friend have jobs and, you know, lives."

"That they do, no doubt. But Macen has established a spy network around the world, and no doubt at least one of his spies would have been assigned to keep an eye out, in Triscot. Even now, I shouldn't wonder. Not that Adam's kin would be such a spy's sole responsibility; I'm sure they could fill their time with more immediate concerns, but if Adam ever did make an appearance...." Sidney just shook his head.

"So, I trust you no longer work for Xander?" asked Darius.

"No, I eventually began working for... Evan."

"And a finer employee I couldn't ask for," said Adam. "Anyway, I think that's enough questions; now on to new business. Perhaps Mr. Underground should start," and he turned to look at the LandOrder spy.

"Very well," said Jasp. "As I mentioned at supper, I met today with Cherilyn Amalgamator, don of LandOrder's Triscot branch. Darius, you should come with me sometime before we leave Triscot, and talk with her, yourself. Your associates might come as well, perhaps, but you yourself must. And when you do, please bear in mind that she is one of the four original founders of LandOrder, and second in line of succession, after Don Chieftain of Plist, to become capo, if and when Capp Primus should ever vacate that position. I don't doubt that you would be respectful toward any of our dons, should you meet them. But it's important that you treat all four founders with the same level of respect you showed Primus, when you spoke with him in Jump Village. I also trust you will try to sound less wishy-washy, in the future." The spy allowed himself a small grin as he added, "Though I know there's a fine line between self-confidence and disrespectfulness."

"Of course," said Darius. "I'll do my best. So um... you've mentioned two of the founders, I think. Who are the others? You know, in case I meet them, so I'll know how much respect to show."

"Obviously, Capp Primus is one of the four. I've mentioned Chieftain, and Amalgamator, and the last is Roger Fourth, don of the First Village branch."

"Funny," said Tom, "that this Fourth fellow- frightfully imaginative surname, by the way- should be the fourth most important person in your gang, and yet don of what is presumably the most important branch. At least, it's the most important village on the Land, the seat of the entire world government. One would think the capo would have his own headquarters there. Uh, I forget, now... do we know where Primus's headquarters are?"

Jasp sighed. "I can't recall, myself, if that's something any of you have been made aware of, but there's no point hiding it. In fact I'm reasonably sure our enemies, including InterVil, are aware of it, so why not our allies? Capp Primus is not merely capo of LandOrder, but also don of our Kimrin branch. Actually, he was born in Triscot, and his family were among the original settlers of Kimrin, when he was still a boy..."

He was interrupted by Darius, who said, "Hey, Star, didn't you say your family were involved in settling Kimrin?"

Alecstar sighed. "Yes. But we were from Tanq, not Triscot, so we wouldn't have known Capp's folks before the move, and after... well, there were many settlers. I doubt we ever met. Besides which, I'm sure he was older than me. I was only about eight, at the time."

"Right, of course. Sorry, didn't meant to sound like I was suggesting you might have known him, or anything. Just noting the coincidence." And while that was true, and Darius told himself the misunderstanding of his intent was Alecstar's, not his... he couldn't help feeling a bit embarrassed about having spoken at all.

Alecstar felt a bit embarrassed, himself. "Sorry, I shouldn't have made that assumption. It's just that..." he suddenly shook his head and said, "No, nothing. Never mind."

"Anyway," Jasp resumed, "it only makes sense that each don, or any gang member, for that matter, would remain in the village in which they lived. Capp had no desire to move to First Village, though I suppose he could have done so. In any event, it's my understanding that the founders agreed that there's no real reason for a gang's capital to be the same as the government's. In fact, it's considered best to be different, on general principle, as well as the fact that it could be difficult to maintain our major power base at the same place as the Order's power base. To be sure, the Order is stronger than any one gang; stronger than all the gangs combined. As things stand, it would be inconvenient for them to attempt to wipe us out entirely. They could do it, undoubtedly, but it would mean committing so many resources as to be considered a full-scale war. And I don't think they feel they can afford such a thing at this point. That's one thing that works in your favor, Darius. So... they content themselves to allow our continued existence. It gives the police something to do, after all. Which translates to an excuse for greater taxes than they could justify, if we were gone. Still... if our power base were so close to theirs, it might prove too tempting a target. They could cut off our head, and leave us a living threat, but at the same time greatly decrease the degree of threat we posed, on a world-wide scale, with such a single blow. So... Kimrin is safer for Primus." He paused for a moment before adding, "And, anyway, there's a more... personal reason our capo would rather not live in First Village. Someone he doesn't want to see." At this point, Jasp glanced at Star, making a connection which he supposed was rather obvious if anyone cared to think about it, assuming they knew anything about politics or recent history, which he was sure everyone here did. But if anyone else had made the same connection, they gave no sign of it. And clearly, that was the way the man wanted it. So, he turned back to the group at large, and continued.

"Anyway, so he stays in his village, and the other dons each stay in the villages where they lived before the Coming of the Order. Roger Fourth just happened to be from First Village, though to be sure, that happenstance proved important to the founders when they were, well, founding... and continues to prove useful, even now. I don't doubt that if one of the four hadn't been from First Village, then one of the three other than Primus himself would have to have been chosen to move there, to head up that branch."

"Alight," said Tom. "So, then... now that we've got all that sorted, and we know which four dons are most deserving of our respect, perhaps we can get on with hearing what you've learned today from this Amalgamator person?"

"Of course," said Jasp. Turning to Darius he said, "First of all, I want to mention that our people in Tanq have been keeping an eye on your uncle West. I can report that InterVil have been keeping an eye on him, as well, but so far seem to have made no move to approach him for questioning, let alone detain him, or worse. He seems safe, for now. Of course, we dare not approach him, ourselves, for fear of casting suspicion on him. But if anything happens to him, we'll soon know about it."

"Well, that's good to know," said Darius. "Thank you. ...By the way, it suddenly occurs to me that just before Sidney first appeared to us yesterday, you'd been going to say some things to me about a conversation you had with Amalgamator, or her chief spy, or both, I'm not sure. But that all kind of got forgotten in the surprise of finding my clan alive."

"Oh, right. Well, it was all sort of sketchy, cursory stuff. I pretty much knew then as much as I've said just now about your uncle. I probably should have mentioned that during last night's meal. Sorry. But the other things I was going to say... were things I've learned about in greater detail today, as I knew I would. So I just sort of decided to put off talking about any of it until I knew more. I don't think there's anything that would have been important to have known about yesterday, at least not in what small detail I had at the time. It just would have led to questions I couldn't have answered. But now, hopefully, I can."

"Okay. Go on."

"So... where to begin? You understand, of course, that there are always numerous matters requiring the attention of LandOrder's various dons. There's standard, day-to-day operations, and also occasionally there are... more particular matters of interest. The Chaos is just one of those things. There's been talk amongst the dons about you people, but also about other matters. And it's possible that some of those matters, which at first glance may seem unrelated to your rebellion, could in fact have an effect on not only your actions, but also upon how LandOrder chooses to proceed in regards to you all.

"First of all, this is an election year. We always watch such matters closely, and sometimes do what we can to have an influence on the outcome. This year, I believe there are no particular plans to influence the election, in large part because there seems little doubt that Demos Royal will be elected to a third term as king. And, honestly, I think all the gangs have always been reasonably happy with how he runs the world."

"Why does that not surprise me?" scoffed Tom. "I'll tell you why. The man's a crook, himself. And mad as a furthing."

"Mad, perhaps," agreed Jasp, "but certainly in a more calculating fashion than a furthing. As long as things continue to go his way, he's not about to show his feral side. In any event, he's one of surprisingly few people in the government who are actually aware of the various gangs' involvement in the establishment of the Second Order. Of course, he must make a show of opposing crime, or rather... it's not a show. He doesn't really give a hoot about gangs, now that we've, well, served our purpose. So it's all the same to him if we were wiped out, or continue operations. Although, as I mentioned earlier, our existence serves as an excuse for taxes for the police- not that Royal is personally all that concerned about local taxes. However, it's not like there'd be no crime to fight, if we were shut down. There'd still be individual, unorganized crime which would necessitate the police, and possibly even InterVil. And anyway... I think it amuses Royal to watch the rivalries between gangs, though he has no preference for any one over another. Too, he likes to believe that if he called on us for a favor at some point, we'd feel indebted to him, somehow." Jasp smirked as he added, "And both LandOrder and InterGang like to play along, on the rare occasions that he asks for some little thing which happens to be either of no interest to us one way or the other, or to serve our own interests. The reality is he's more indebted to us than we are to him, whether he sees that or not. But it's not like we never ask him for anything, which he agrees to, if it's of no interest to him, or serves his interests. Naturally, either Royal or the gangs would betray the other over an important enough matter, should one ever arise; but it's preferable to keep the relationship amicable, mutally beneficial, for as long as possible. But I daresay, Royal himself would never suspect that any gang would betray him, and he probably doesn't think we're aware that he'd ever betray us. He likes to think he's more clever than anyone in the world, and that the entire world exists to serve his own purposes.

"On the other hand, we have no way of predicting how any of the other candidates would feel about us. It's unlikely that any of them would consider any kind of relationship with the gangs. Clandestine arrangements aside, some of them might maintain the status quo, in regards to fighting crime; others would undoubtedly prefer to take a firmer stand, really crack down hard on the gangs. So... like I said, we'd prefer that Royal remain in office as long as possible."

Darius nodded, but asked, "But what's that got to do with us?"

Jasp let out a long breath, and brushed back his hair. "Well... as I said, there are a number of matters the dons have been thinking about, and they all sort of tie together. I need to try to paint you a picture of the larger scene, piece by piece. The next piece is a matter which was recently discovered by my own team of spies, in Tonad. Over the last few days, LandOrder's spies in other villages, taking a cue from Cabbit- I mentioned her before, didn't I?" There were a few nods from those assembled, and grins from Ginger and Emma. "Yes, well, anyway, taking their cue from Cabbit, our spies have been investigating the matter which was uncovered in Tonad. And what they've found supports it. It's about InterGang, or rather their don in Tonad, Larami Illuminatus. I'm not sure if InterGang's own spies have gotten wind of this yet, though I'd be shocked if they hadn't. They should have known about it sooner than ours, of course. But... if so, InterGang is showing no signs of monitoring the situation. I suppose capo Mysshroudedtery is trying to give Illuminatus enough rope to hang herself, though it would make more sense to me to just get rid of her before she has a chance to do any harm. But then, I don't think it's ever been easy for anyone to understand the capo's methods."

"Excuse me," cut in Tom, "but you seem to have left out exactly what your spies uncovered about this Illuminatus person."

"Right, sorry. Well, it's no secret in InterGang that Illuminatus has never cared for Mysshroudedtery. So of course, it's no secret to LandOrder. Both gangs do their best to keep track of the internal politics of each other. Knowledge is power, of course. But it seems that recently, things have been getting worse. We don't know exactly what prompted this, but... it seems that Illuminatus is planning something. A coup, perhaps. We don't know exactly what her plan is, but based on her actions, which have been reasonably well cloaked, but not well enough... we're guessing that she plans to overthrow Mysshroudedtery, and become capo of InterGang, herself."

"All very interesting," said Darius, "but I'm still not seeing what it has to do with us."

Glancing at the Chaos founder, Jasp said wryly, "The picture is not yet complete." He cleared his throat, and continued in a more serious tone. "About two years ago, a group was formed in Plist, a sort of... neighborhood watch, which called itself the Syndicate. Their goal was to protect people from crime, when the police were not always doing an adequate job, in their judgment. Since then, the group has grown, and even expanded to other villages. One of those villages is Tanq, whose police chief, Quinn Darkstrider, has been most cooperative with the Syndicate's efforts...."

"Wait," said Darius. "I think I read that name the other day in the paper. Isn't he running for king?"

Jasp nodded. "Indeed. At this point, no one seems to think he has much chance of winning the election, but both don Chieftain of Plist and don Ferryman of Tanq have urged capo Primus to take the matter of the Syndicate seriously. In the past, they've been a relatively minor thorn in our side; and in fact, I hear one of Chieftain's own people even has had dealings with the Syndicate, on a personal matter- though of course they couldn't have known he was in a gang. They are, as far as we can tell, incorruptible. But Chieftain knew about it, and gave unofficial approval to his man to go ahead with the deal. The story goes, he was having trouble with his family's business being targeted by criminals, whether InterGang or independent, I'm not sure; but LandOrder couldn't help, since this fellow, an Adult, didn't want it getting out that he was involved in a gang, himself. Actually, I don't know the whole story, but it's not important. The point is, if the Syndicate was helpful to him, it didn't even matter that they're our enemies. But now that they're becoming more powerful- and will no doubt become more powerful still, in the unlikely event that Darkstrider becomes king- we're forced to take them more seriously."

"I'm beginning to see," said Darius, "that things are more complicated for intervillage gangs than I had ever considered. I suppose I never gave it much thought, but I just sort of figured it was pretty much the same as single village gangs, or even independent criminals. Just... better profits, better security, maybe better training. That sort of thing. But you all really are... serious organizations. Like your own world governments, sort of. It's almost like we already have multiple countries, existing in the same space. In any event, as much as you already have on your plates, it seems to me you'd hardly want to have to deal with the Chaos. I mean, it'd be just one more complication in your already overly complicated lives."

"Ah, but you've just hit upon precisely the reason we do, or rather may, want to deal with you. In fact I've only given you a few of the major things going on right now; there's actually much more, of varying degrees of importance. But let's begin to tie all this together, now that you mention how complicated it all is." Jasp interlaced his fingers, took another breath, and said, "So. We currently have a tenuous, yet occasionally beneficial relationship with the Second Order. We don't expect the upcoming election to change that, but we would be remiss if we didn't prepare for the possibility. In particular, we do not want Darkstrider to become the next King, though any of the candidates would be worse for us than Royal. If he fails to be reelected, even day-to-day operations will no doubt become harder for all the gangs. But even if he is reelected, internal conflict within InterGang is likely about to temporarily destabilize them, making it an ideal time for LandOrder to strike against them. However, if we're forced to worry about the government coming down harder on us, we dare not devote the resources to accelerating our war against InterGang. And so..."

"We'd make a good distraction," said Tom. Alecstar nodded at this; he'd been thinking the same thing for awhile, but had wanted to let Jasp spell it out.

"Exactly," said Jasp. "Regardless of the outcome of the election, if the government is forced to focus its attention on your rebellion, it won't matter who's in office. They won't have the resources to devote to fighting us, so we can concentrate on fighting InterGang, while they're weakened by Illuminatus's coup. Of course, that might enhance the likelihood of the Syndicate being granted official, if autonomous, status as crimefighters. At this point, it's unclear exactly how the government would respond to the Chaos. For the time being, they seem willing to use InterVil against you, but if it does become an actual rebellion, they'd call in the army, no doubt. Things would get confusing at that point, as different branches of government are notoriously bad at sorting out questions of jurisdiction. So, the police would likely continue to be involved in trying to stop you, which is why I said they'd be more eager to get the Syndicate's help in dealing with the more routine matter of fighting gangs. Obviously, we don't want that to happen, in the long run. But in the short run, we feel they'd be easier to deal with than the police, and less of a distraction from our main goal of taking as much of a chunk out of InterGang as we can. They'd especially be easier to deal with if InterVil is too preoccupied with the Chaos, as well as departmental squabbles with the army, to devote time and resources to training or integrating the Syndicate. If the Syndicate must be allied with InterVil, such a chaotic time of rebellion- no pun intended- would be ideal. Without InterVil's full attention, the Syndicate will be less effective, and more likely to fall apart under the strain of their suddenly enhanced responsibilities, without enhanced support. So, if we're lucky, that would just be one more thorn removed from our side, permanently." Jasp smiled, leaned back in his chair, and clasped his hands behind his head.

Darius narrowed his eyes, looked down at his feet, and rubbed his chin. "So, just a distraction." Looking up, with just a hint of a grin, he said, "I'll take that." But he suddenly frowned as something occurred to him. "But I still don't know that it's in your best interest to support us. Even if it's best to get the Syndicate out of the way while we're providing a distraction, it seems like it'd be simpler if they were never given greater power in the first place. And you did say Demos is the most useful person to have on the throne, for your purposes. But... one of the main goals of the Chaos is to dethrone him, so wouldn't the bad outweigh the good, from LandOrder's perspective?"

Jasp was still smiling as he said, "True enough, but... eh, we all just really hate the guy. Especially capo Primus. Like I said, the election isn't that big of a deal one way or the other. So if you factor our distaste for Demos into the equation, the benefits of helping your rebellion, or whatever it is, actually do outweigh the drawbacks. Sort of."

Darius nodded. Thought of smiling, but didn't. "Okay. Well, anyway, was that all you talked about with Amalgamator, or was there anything else?"

"Of course, I had her send some people to fetch our wagon. They're working on repairs and restocking. Should be good as new by tomorrow afternoon. Also passed along your questions from a couple days ago, before we got to Triscot. It's doubtful that we could translocate to Near Port, and I don't know about faster wagons, but we'll see. Meanwhile, the don promised to have some t-mail bubbles specially prepared for us to set up that communication network you were thinking of."

"Oh," said Darius, who had forgotten he'd even asked. "Uh, good, good. Excellent."

"Aaand... I think that's pretty much it. We did discuss a few other things, not related to the Chaos."

"Then I suppose it's my turn to speak, again," said Adam. "As you know, I talked to some friends today, myself. They now know what little I knew of your plans, and are spreading the word to more of our allies, in various villages. T-mail won't be used, so it will take awhile to set up, but... well, there's really not much to say, except that over the course of the next few weeks, more and more able bodies shall be put at your disposal, if and when such time comes as war may once again break out in earnest-"

Darius interrupted with a sudden thought. Turning to Jasp, he said, "You should see if my father and his allies can all get tied into the t-mail network being prepared for us."

Jasp nodded. "Of course. We can talk to don Amalgamator about it tomorrow morning, while waiting for repairs on the wagon to be finalized." Turning to Adam, he said, "Please continue, sir."

"Thank you." Turning from the spy to his son, he said, "I know you've been rethinking the idea of rebellion, in favor of some more peaceful means of change. And I'm not sure how much help that would be to LandOrder's own machinations." He glanced at Jasp, who shrugged, but was apparently unwilling to comment at the moment. Turning back to Darius, Adam continued. "But you've also indicated that you realize, whether you choose open rebellion or not, you'll have to be prepared for war, depending on how Demos Royal, or the Second Order in general, chooses to respond to whatever you do. So, my thinking is that you should go to Shanty, tomorrow. Not just in hopes of seeing family, as your mother suggested last night, but also... you're going to need more than an army, if it comes to war. You'll also need a navy. I'm afraid my contacts are few, in such a field. Actually, I think most, if not all, sailors I once knew, whether military or merchant, are under the impression I'm dead, and wouldn't lift a finger to help, if they learned otherwise; quite the contrary, in fact. So, your best bet is pirates."

"Pirates!" exclaimed Darius. "Why am I even surprised it should come to this? Of course, first I start depending on a gang for support, which I never would have expected, and now it's pirates." He shook his head, but then suddenly stopped, and grinned. "Pirates. Sure, why the hell not? Sounds like fun." He stood up, stretched his arms, and yawned. "Pirates," he said once more. "Well, sounds like tomorrow's gonna be a big day. So, we should all get some sleep." Without another word, he headed to his room for the night, and the others soon did likewise.


chapter 27

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