After breakfast the next morning, Darius, his allies, and his parents all piled into Adam's wagon. (While Adam and Alyn both wore glamour masks, Cameron didn't bother casting glamours on anyone in the Chaos, today. They felt safer already being within the village than they had when first entering it, two days ago. Moreover, not knowing how long they'd be in town, they didn't want to arouse suspicion by having their glamours suddenly fade away before some stranger's eyes.) The trip itself was unremarkable, and when they emerged above ground, they found themselves inside a barn. They left the wagon and striders with servants who were already on duty when the group arrived, and Adam and Alyn led the way out of the building. Darius turned to examine the barn from the outside, and saw that it had been built with its back wall against a small hill, which was only slightly taller than the barn itself. He walked around back to take a closer look, and was impressed that there was no visible evidence of the hole he knew to be in the wall or the hill, through which they had emerged from the tunnel.
Rejoining the group after just a centhour, he looked around the other three sides of the property. There were trees lining either side of the barn, not more than a few yards from the walls. The line to the left of the barn (when facing it) extended a few extra yards before turning at a right angle, while the line to the right of the barn turned at a right angle of its own at a point parallel with the front corner of the barn. The two lines of trees continued parallel to each other for some distance, with a path a few yards wide running between them, from the front door of the barn. Darius noted that it was virtually impossible to see anything beyond the trees, as tightly packed as they were.
Adam saw Darius taking in the lay of the land, and smiled, knowing that his son had always enjoyed exploring unfamiliar terrain. "There are several more hills in the area, and wild woods not far beyond the trees you can see, to left and right." Nodding at the line running across from the front of the barn, he said, "That line marks the original edge of a forest which was cleared away when this estate was built-"
"Estate?" asked Darius. "What estate? All I see is a barn."
"Which is rather the point. Or, actually, the point is not to see the barn. You've no doubt noticed that the entrance to the tunnel is well enough hidden, but why take any chances, right? Walk with me, everyone." Adam and Alyn began walking along the path between the lines of trees, and everyone followed. "Some space was cleared beyond the trees to the left and right of the barn, in an effort to make these lines look as if they were planted here for an aesthetic effect... to make clean, civilized lines, you know. The woods can't be seen from here, but they're not far away."
After walking for a few centhours, they reached a break in the line of trees on their left, while the path continued on straight ahead, leading into town. Adam and Alyn stopped and turned left, leading the group onto an offshoot path. As he turned onto the path, Darius looked left and right, and saw the lefthand line of trees again turned at a right angle and continued on, and to the right side of this new path there was another line of trees, or rather two lines at right angles, bordering the path they had just left. But these details were of no great importance to him; rather, he focused on what was at the end of the offshoot path, which was a moderate-sized manor, clearly well kept. It was nothing compared to the manor in which he'd grown up, but still impressive. In some ways, perhaps even more impressive.
"Is that made of granite?" Darius asked.
"Yeah. It was formerly owned by a man named Grigory, who was introduced to be by another fellow, Dex, who I had recently started doing business with, in early 903, when I was first establishing my Evan Wayfarer persona; or actually, just 'Evan'. The 'Wayfarer' bit came later. Anyway-"
"Wait," Darius interrupted, "would that be Dex Bigthink?"
"Oh, you know him? Yes, though as I said, at the time we met I was just 'Evan' and he was just 'Dex,' because the surname law wouldn't be passed for over a year; but he did later add the name 'Bigthink.'"
Anyone who knew Darius well might have been able to recognize the excitement on his face, because of the revelation of this coincidence, though most people probably wouldn't have noticed any appreciable difference in his expression or tone. "He actually helped us escape from InterVil back in Tanq, and he also lent us some money. I wasn't sure when I'd get a chance to pay him back, but since you know him, maybe you could take care of that? I promise I'll pay you back sooner or later, but I think it's better to keep debts in the family. Oh... I suppose he probably doesn't know who you really are, though I'm sure you could make up something about how you know me...."
Adam grinned and said, "You're right, he doesn't know the truth about me, but I doubt he'd be surprised to learn Evan Wayfarer had taken up with revolutionaries."
"Uh, you might want to leave that word out. He knows we're accused of that, but I'd rather he not know our accuser was right."
Adam nodded. "As you wish. But as for paying me back, don't even worry about it. If I'm going to take part in your revolution, I think it's only natural that I should contribute some capital to the enterprise, and I'm sure whatever you owe Dex is relatively negligible compared to the overall funding you'll be needing. Besides," he added as another thought suddenly struck him, "technically you and West own the Land our clan presently lives beneath, and you've never charged us any rent. We owe you."
Tom looked at Darius quizzically. "Eh? What's he talking about?"
Darius couldn't help smiling. "Well, why do you think valuable and unoccupied farmland has never been claimed? As the last surviving members of the clan, ownership of the estate went to my uncle and me, after the war. We could have sold it, but even if neither of us had any particular desire to visit the land, we also didn't want to let it go."
“And that's a stroke of luck which we've all counted on,” said Adam. “I doubt we could've remained undiscovered so long, if strangers moved in, started living and working here.”
"Ah. Makes sense. Actually, I had been wondering about that. I was going to ask why it hadn't been reclaimed and put to good use, but it slipped my mind."
“Could have been even worse than strangers,” Darius commented. “We've had a few offers on the property, over the years, but most of those offers came from Xander Illustri. Of course we turned him down, knowing that his primary purpose in owning your land would be as a symbol of his having bested you. Obviously, we couldn't have that.”
"No, indeed not," said Adam. "Anyway, back to what I was saying earlier. Dex introduced me to Grigory- who later took the surname 'Manager,' by the way- who had been the owner of a major accounting firm, though I made sure not to interact with anyone as Evan who I had known as Adam, in spite of the glamour. In 902, Grigory had become a bank manager, hence the surname he chose in 904. It actually did remarkably well, the bank he started, and by the time he'd taken the name 'Manager,' he was already running a chain of banks with branches in other villages. Dex actually helped him with that, in some way. When I met him, he was still working out the details with bank owners from other villages, but at the same time, he spoke of the fact that sometime in the next year or two, he expected Congress to establish a new governmental department in which he hoped to obtain a position. Sure enough, in 905, the Treasury Department came into being, and he was appointed as one of its first officers. Actually, I heard from Dex last year that he had been appointed as the new Director of the Treasury, when the first Director retired. But in any event, it was, as I said, early 903 when I met him. As Evan, I actually ended up keeping an account in his first bank, though the main reason Dex introduced me is because I was looking for a new home to use in my guise as Evan. And Grigory was already planning to move to First Village, where he had recently opened a new branch of his bank. He was hoping to put himself in Congress's sights, you know. Though it's funny, I keep talking about Congress as if it already existed; the government hadn't even been elected yet, when Grigory was planning on obtaining their favor. Nor was it certain there would even be a government. Now that's some forward thinking; hardly surprising he was a friend of someone like Dex."
"You said this Grigory's last name is Manager?" Jasp asked as soon as Adam paused in his story.
The spy looked thoughtful for a few moments, then waved a hand and said, "It may be nothing. Forget it."
Before Adam could reply, Darius glanced at Jasp and said, "I'll forget it for now, but you obviously think it might be something. If it turns out to be important to the Chaos, I trust you'll let me know."
"Alright, then." Turning to his father, Darius said, "Please, continue."
"Hmmm? Well, I'm not sure where I was going with all that, actually. Um... oh yes, you asked if the manor was built of granite, and I was just going to explain that the former owner originally based his accounting firm out of the house. Kept a lot of people's money there, and some businesses' money, so it was important to him to have a building that was fairly secure. Well, it doesn't get much more secure than granite. I mean, unless you wanted to construct a building out of steel or something, but who'd do that?"
"Right," said Darius. "I'm no engineer or architect or anything, but I can't imagine a steel building working out. Anyway... granite's definitely better than wood or ceramic bricks, like on our old estate. Seems like a building like this has less chance of getting burned down or smashed in." His expression had grown a bit harder as he said this, and his teeth were almost clenched as he uttered the last few words. Emma thought back to her own reaction to seeing the remains of Darius's clan's former estate when they first arrived the other day. He'd seemed almost okay about it, at the time, but it was clearer now that he must, quite naturally, harbor some resentment toward the Order for what they'd done to his home, as much as to his family.
No one said anything for a couple of centhours, until finally Alyn broke the silence by clearing her throat and saying, "So, I should mention that, like my husband, I myself go by an alias, in public. When we're away from home, please address me as 'Anne Veil.' And, Darius... obviously, don't call us 'Mom' or 'Dad.' And remember not to give any indication that the two of us are married. We're friends, as far as the public is concerned. Which at least is more of a connection than anyone else of our clan displays. As I said, Monn, Ani, and Barat don't publicly associate with one another, nor with either of us, usually. Anyway, 'Evan' has a business to run, even if it's not strictly legitimate; and sometimes that means he must entertain visitors to his home. Besides which, in order for his false identity to hold up to scrutiny, he needs an address. So, of course he has his own estate and servants. I also have my own townhouse in Triscot, though it's not as nice as this place. As an added bonus, owning this property affords a certain privacy for coming and going that would be less certain if we simply emerged from the tunnel in some unowned section of the woods, where anyone might happen by unexpectedly. "
"Makes sense," replied Darius. "I should have thought of that."
"Anyway," said Adam, "I'd like to show you all around the manor sometime, but we have business to attend to in town, so we should get going." He turned back onto the main path and started walking again.
They all continued in silence for the brief remainder of the walk into town. As they began passing the first few buildings, Jasp said, "I'll lead the way from here." After making several turns down various streets, they came to a building Darius had never seen, which must have been built sometime in the years since he struck out on his own. He'd never spent much time in this section of town, in his youth, nor had he been here on any of his few return visits to Triscot, over the years. However, the style of the building reminded him of something out of the Oni graphic novels he liked to read. He wondered if the architect was a fan of the same stories; in any event, he was sure the architecture was inspired by that of Nihon or some neighboring country, from at least a couple of centuries before The Land had been created. He very much liked it, and was excited when Jasp said, "Well, this is it. Welcome to the Jasmine Dragon tea shop."
They all followed him inside, and Darius found that the interior matched his expectations. The staff were dressed as geisha, and the decor included such things as a koi pond, bonsai trees, paper lanterns, even a maneki neko on the front desk. He couldn't refrain from smiling. When they reached the desk, the hostess said, "Ah, Mr. Underground. How nice to see you again! I take it these are the people Okasan said to expect? I didn't know there would be so many."
"Well, I didn't know how many would be accompanying me, either. Could very well have been just one. But, I think we might as well all meet with her. It concerns everyone here... and in fact any number of others, but this is pretty much the core group. For now. So, if you'd be so kind...?"
"Of course," she said with a smile. "Follow me." She led them through a door, which she had to unlock. It looked like any of the other paper sliding doors in the building, but that was just a glamour; this one was actually much more solid than the others. It led to the most secure room in the building. Inside, they saw that the room was luxuriously decorated in a style which reminded Darius of something out of a picture book he'd once read as a child, called 'Arabian Nights,' which had been inspired by stories from Earth. The walls were hung with ornate tapestries. There were cencers scattered about, which he appreciated, because he'd always found the aroma of incense supremely relaxing. At the back of the room was an assemblage of large, colorful, ornate, and above all very comfortable-looking pillows, spread all over the floor. At the center of this assemblage was a seat that appeared to Darius a sort of cross between one of those pillows, albeit larger, and a bean bag chair... though with a bit more structure; there were poles above and on either side of the seat, which supported ornate curtains and canopy. (I've gotta stop using the word 'ornate' so much, he thought to himself. But hey... it fits.) He tried to think of a subword to describe this style of seat, but none came to him.
Seated in the whatever-it-was, was a woman dressed like she belonged in that picture book (the word 'sari' came to mind, but so did the word 'kimono'; he thought that neither word was quite right, and wondered, not for the first time in his life, if there was some strange sort of subjectivity that affected the way subwords worked in the Landian mind, whether for individual people or just in general). Actually, her attire seemed like a cross between two different styles, but he definitely liked it. In much the same way, the decor of the room was all rather different from the style of the rest of the tea shop, from an entirely different Terran culture; and yet somehow, Darius felt that it didn't seem that out of place. The next few moments were filled with a rush of jumbled memories which led to a sudden understanding of why it all seemed to him to fit:
He realized there was music playing lightly in the background, and furthermore, that he recognized it. He didn't know the name of the song, but he felt certain the recording was of a band he'd heard once, a few years ago, called 'The Really Far East.' He smiled as he recalled that at the concert he'd attended, they insisted their name had to have the word 'Really' written or pronounced in italics, or else it just wasn't their name. They'd had behind them, hanging on the wall at the back of the stage, an enormous tapestry that ostensibly was a map of the Milky Way. They'd explained that on Earth, there were regions that had once been referred to as the 'Middle East' and the 'Far East.' They said that on the galactic map, the Land was to the East of Earth, though personally Darius had found this claim questionable. He couldn't see how terrestrial directions could possibly have any objective meaning in galactic terms. It also seemed dubious that they'd even know where the Land, the Earth, or any other planets were actually located, but they claimed to know a spirit who'd provided them with the map.
The same spirit had told them, apparently, about the Earth regions in question; they then hoisted another tapestry, in front of the first, which showed a map of Earth, and explained various concepts, beginning with a term called 'eurocentrism.' This represented one of the things about Earth which Darius himself didn't like to think about: Prejudice, which was inherently nauseating to any Landian mind, if one even became aware of the concept's existence. Of course, the concept was itself inherent in the differentiation between classes, which had been introduced during the Coming, though somehow it was less obvious than some of Earth's prejudices. Even Darius himself had once ascribed to the idea of nobility being somehow better than commoners; not in any fundamental way, of course, but still.... Well, this was in fact something Vallus himself had pointed out, in one of his speeches, during the Coming. He'd articulated it in such a way that Darius had come to understand it better than he ever had from his father's arguments, and it had been one of the things that first made Darius begin to reconsider his own beliefs. He only wished he could have understood such matters more fully before his clan had been killed. Now, of course, he knew they were alive, or most of them, anyway; but that did nothing to assuage the guilt and shame he'd felt for many years. And anyway, at the time he'd attended The Really Far East's concert, he'd still thought them all dead.
But the band's point had had nothing to do with prejudice at all. They were merely explaining the geographical origins of their name, and making light of the terms on Earth, particularly 'Far East,' which in contrast to how far away another planet in another star system is, any two points on a single planet were like neighbors, or even practically the same point. No place on a single planet is really 'far' from any other place. (This Darius had also found dubious, considering how long it took on the Land to travel from one village to another, let alone from one land to another.) But the ultimate point that the band had been making was that this spirit friend of theirs had explained all this geography, to help them explain the origins of certain musical recordings she'd provided them with. He was a bit surprised that he'd remembered the spirit was a 'she,' and wondered if he could manage to recall her name... something with an 'S,' he thought, Siz... his eyes widened as he realized it was Sizinia, surely the same spirit Ginger herself had spoken of a week ago. He glanced at Ginger for a moment, as this thought crossed his mind, but immediately turned back toward the woman in the fancy chair.
Of course, most of these things he hadn't even thought of consciously, at the present time. Essentially all he'd thought of, from the moment he recognized The Really Far East's music emanating from some hidden bubbles, probably scattered throughout the room for surround sound, was that the band had explained that their music was a mesh of styles from the two regions of Earth, which Sizinia had told them always sounded similar to her. (Darius supposed, now, that they would sound similar, to a spirit who, as he'd learned from Ginger, was into interplanetary music, in much the same way that any two points on a single planet would seem to be next-door neighbors.) The upshot of his sudden realization about the music currently in the air was that the decor made sense to him, now. The building was mostly of a Nihon-style, as he'd realized earlier; he remembered now that Nihon would have been included in the 'Far East,' while the 'Arabian Nights' book would have been set in the 'Middle East.' If the woman before him and his companions was a fan of The Really Far East's music, it made sense that she'd have an interest in also meshing styles of architecture, decor, clothing... anything. He'd always liked that band's music, and agreed with Sizinia's assessment that the styles worked well together. He immediately thought that he'd probably like this woman, and also that he should see if Ginger might one day introduce him to Sizinia. Spirits seem like pretty cool people, he thought to himself.
It had hardly taken Darius any more time to think these things than it had taken the hostess, when they'd all entered the room, to say to the woman in the seat, "Okasan, Mr. Underground has returned with his guests."
"I see. Thank you, dear. You may return to your duties." The hostess performed an ornate bow, which Darius was sure must be like the sort of gestures real Terran geisha might perform, and he wondered how the girls here could have learned such things. Was one of them a spirit-talker, perhaps? Did they know Sizinia? No, he rather suspected the cultural trappings had been learned from some other source, whether books or some other spirit, who specialized in something other than musical knowledge.
Suddenly, he had an unrelated thought, and called out to her as she opened the door. "Um, sorry, if it's not too much trouble, I mean this being a tea shop and all... I wonder if I might get a cup of chai?" He heard a snicker behind him which sounded like Tom. "...Or, on second thought, I think perhaps I'm actually more in the mood for cherry sencha." Though for a moment the scent of incense in the air made him consider changing his mind back to chai, or maybe even Prittian coffee (or Turkish coffee, as it was called on Earth), instead he remained silent, and allowed his request to stand as was.
The hostess nodded and replied, "Of course. Would anyone else care for some refreshment?"
They all shook their heads. She left, closing the door behind her. Then 'Okasan' introduced herself. With a smile she said, "Greetings. I am Cherilyn Amalgamator, don of the Triscot branch of LandOrder." Darius briefly wondered if she'd invite them to sit on the pillows that surrounded her on the floor, but she said nothing of the kind, so they all remained standing before her. Suddenly assuming a more stoic countenance than she had at first displayed, the don immediately got down to business. "Well... to begin this meeting, let's recap recent events. It was one week ago today that you met with capo Primus, at don Holdup's office in Jump Village. After your meeting with him, he conducted a meeting with all of his dons. What he said was that we should keep an eye on you, and informed us of his appointment of Mr. Underground as liaison. Beyond that, he left it up to each don to do as we saw fit with regards to the Chaos, as long as we did nothing to hinder you in any way. We could help you, or we could do nothing at all. And the precise degree and type of help we might offer would likewise be strictly at our own discretion. Of course, we were all well aware that our entire association with you people had been precipitated by the casual interest of don Chieftain, and we certainly all trust his instincts. So, we're probably all going to be generally inclined to help as much as we can, as long as it doesn't interfere too much with any of our other operations.
"The next day, Mr. Underground contacted don Holdup, concerning the presence of IngerGang spies, watching the docks in Jump Village; however, the don could offer no help in the matter. The day after that, you were in Tanq. One of our Adults in that village happened to run into one of you people, and informed him that your assets had all been frozen, and that you were wanted for questioning. I'm not sure quite how an Adult had gotten wind of that. I suppose it could have been idle interdepartmental gossip, or he might have overheard spies chatting in the hall. Whatever, not something I should think would happen in my branch, but it's not important. Later that day, Mr. Underground contacted don Ferryman, who regretfully informed him that his branch could be of no help, at that time. Over the next couple of days, you were in transit between Tanq and Triscot. Mr. Underground kept in touch with capo Primus, though he had little to report, aside from the fact that Mr. Lonewander seems to have started getting more serious, and reconsidered his earlier insistence upon not having a plan. However, his current plan remains rather sketchy... mainly it seems to involve the vague, almost chimerical dream of secession. Though I suppose the fact that that sounds less ambitious than the idea of entirely breaking the world back down into independent villages is... well, theoretically a more attainable goal."
At this point, there was a knock on the door, and Amalgamator called out, "Come." The hostess returned, handed Darius his tea, bowed, and once again exited the room.
As Darius blew on the tea and took his first sip, Amalgamator resumed her speech. "Anyway, two days ago, the Chaos arrived in Triscot, and Mr. Underground contacted me. He passed on a few inquiries from Mr. Lonewander, which I've been looking into. My chief Sorreter informs me his people have managed to increase the top speed of your wagon a bit, along with the other repairs they've been affecting. But it's not a terribly significant boost. There is, I'm afraid, no way we'll be translocating any of you to Near Port. However, as for a communications network, it's actually a simple enough matter. I suppose you're familiar with the various types of t-mail bubbles; most people use blue or white ones, though yellow and green aren't uncommon. Red and orange, of course, are the most secure types available to the general public, while the government's indigo and violet bubbles are even more secure and practically unhackable. Gangs generally use our own custom-made grey or black bubbles, which are just as secure as the government's. The black ones are for closed, person-to-person calls, while the grey ones are for conference calls. I've talked to my chief Sorreter and chief spy about the possibility of a network that is constantly active, yet to all intents and purposes, closed when not in use. When opened, it could be person-to-person, or it could be used simultaneously by anyone with the appropriate type of bubble. Furthermore, such bubbles would be permanent, not disposable." For just a few moments, she grinned as she added, "We're thinking these networked bubbles would be black and grey checked." Resuming her serious expression, she turned to address Cameron, saying, "My spy mentioned a related communications system employed by InterGang, chiefly for the purpose of capo Mysshroudedtery hiding her location, even from most of her own subordinates. I'm told we might adapt this system to our own purpose. It utilizes something called 'bittrickle.' Mr. Piper, I have a feeling you might be able to help facilitate this."
Cameron simply replied, "I'll... look into it, and get back to you as soon as I can."
"Thank you." Returning her gaze to the group at large, she continued, "Well, as I said, Mr. Underground contacted me two days ago, passed on a bit of information to me, and I to him. Then yesterday, he returned, with the shocking revelation that at least some of Adam's clan survived the war, and had been in hiding these last eight years. He also mentioned to me the aliases 'Evan Wayfarer' and 'Anne Veil,' so I've had my people look into the two of you," with a nod to Adam and Alyn. "Two local businesspeople, though it isn't clear what, exactly, your respective businesses entail. It's amazing you've managed to avoid rousing suspicion. Still, it's clear that you have impressive contacts throughout Triscot, people who themselves have impressive contacts in just about every village of the Land. Once I'd learned what little I could about the two of you, I contacted capo Primus. He noted the irony that, while gangs such as ours once helped, at least as pawns, to establish the Second Order, we're now working together with those who once opposed the Coming of the Order." With a wry grin, she said, "The capo and I do both savor such irony."
Adam replied, "Irony's all well and good, though many of my contacts may not appreciate it that much. It will be hard to convince them to work with LandOrder; many will surely refuse. Still, I was hoping you could provide me with some of those special t-mail bubbles you're making, so that I could distribute them to those of my allies as would be willing to become part of this rebellion of my son's. I mean, should it come to that."
Amalgamator nodded. "Of course. Though I trust you'll be aware of the potential for moles within the network we'll be establishing. If any of your allies claim to be okay with the involvement of a gang, but secretly aren't, they could well leak information to the police. That we cannot have. And if we learned of anyone doing this..." she leaned forward and took on a graver expression than they'd yet seen, "they would be swiftly and decisively dealt with by our people." Leaning back in her seat, she smiled and said, "So, if you don't want to lose any friends... just be sure you do a thorough job of vetting them, before inviting them to the party." Adam nodded. "Of course. ...But I wonder if some of your people might be just as apprehensive about this union as my people might. How do you feel about it, if I may ask?"
Her smile widened as she replied, "Why, I'm frightfully eager, probably moreso than anyone else in LandOrder. After all, my last name is 'Amalgamator.' The more the merrier, I always say. But you're right, some people in LandOrder may be less than thrilled at the prospect. However, you've less to worry about on that account than we do. I mean, it's not likely that any of us would go to the police, is it? However... apprehensive... they might be about working with you, it would pale next to their attitude regarding the authorities."
"In any event, capo Primus is greatly encouraged by news of your involvement. Mr. Underground indicated that you consider yourself less important in the rebellion than you do your son, but you'll excuse us if we have greater confidence in you."
With a wry grin, Adam responded, "Well, I don't know how wise that is, considering I lost my war against the Order. But I'll allow that I do have better organizational skills than Darius. ...No offense, Son."
"Not a bit taken, Dad," said Darius. "You're absolutely right."
"Well," said Amalgamator, "that pretty much brings us up to today. Your wagon should be ready soon, but we've a bit of time yet. I've said my piece, but do any of you have more to say? If I may ask, have you made any further plans?"
Darius said, "Well, after we get the wagon back, I think we'll go out for lunch. Then... my father should talk with his associates again, and I think some of my friends will be doing their own thing... but a few of us will be heading to Shanty this afternoon, and talk to some pirates about maybe forming a Chaos Navy."
Amalgamator threw back her head in laughter at this. When she finished, with a beaming face she replied, "Oh, I do love that! I can't wait to tell Capp and Don! Oh, and Mr. Underground, I look forward to hearing your report about how that all turns out."
"Of course, don," he replied formally, though he didn't seem as enthusiastic about the idea as she was.
"Oh, my," continued Amalgamator, "yes, this story just gets better and better. I do hope you win in the end, Mr. Lonewander," addressing Darius, "but even if you fail miserably, and all of you end up jailed or dead- for real this time," she said with a glance at Adam, "...even still, it will have been great fun, yes?" And once again, she started laughing.
As they all filed out of Amalgamator's office, Darius finished his tea, and handed the empty cup to the hostess. He wanted to say "Thank you," but, as so often happened to him, he found himself unable to speak such simple words, and hated himself for it. But, with a sigh, he shook his head, thinking that he mustn't allow such trivial concerns to bother him. His mood quickly shifted as he thought of something else he wanted to say, and turned to Jasp, doing his best to hide a silly grin. "You know, I really don't think my presence was nearly as crucial as you made it sound, last night. I didn't really add much to the proceedings; certainly nothing that you or any one of us couldn't have done."
They exited the building, and Darius started walking down the street. Everyone followed him, without stopping to wonder if he had any idea where he was going. As they walked, Jasp replied, "Well, in large part the importance of your being here was symbolic. You are the leader, after all. On the one hand, it's important for you to stay in the loop, to get information first hand, as much as possible. On the other hand, it demonstrates respect to our dons if you show up yourself, instead of delegating meetings to your... subordinates, as if our dons weren't worthy of your personal attention. And as I mentioned last night, it's especially important for you to show respect to our four founders. It's not just about how you act when you meet them, it's about your meeting them at all, you know?" He paused a moment before suddenly breaking out a grin of his own. "However... another reason I wanted you to come was that I just really thought you'd appreciate the decor."
Darius' own grin widened at this, and he actually laughed. "Wow, thanks, man." His smile faded as he once again wished he would have said thanks to the hostess, and threw a quick, darting glance over his shoulder at the tea shop. He sighed, faced forward, and picked up his pace a bit. "Anyway, guys, who's up for lunch? As leader, I've made the executive decision that we're going to Dane's again."
Darius heard Tom scoff at this, and said, "C'mon, Tom, I know you liked that cheeseburger you had the other day, so no complaining that the place isn't ritzy."
"If you say so," said Tom. "Just one question, o glorious leader... weren't we supposed to pick up our wagon back at LandOrder?"
Darius stopped in his tracks and whispered "Shite" under his breath. With another sigh, he turned around and headed back the way they'd just come. He glared at Jasp as he passed him, saying, "You might have reminded me of that, you know."
"You mentioned it yourself not two centhours before we left don Amalgamator's office! How can you possibly forget so quickly?"
"That's beside the point!" he snapped. "Whether it makes sense or not, clearly I had forgotten." He fidgeted a bit, then said resignedly, "I... I'm easily distracted, okay? In case none of you had noticed by now."
Emma was getting a bit concerned by the turn the conversation was taking, so she said, "Guys... do you not think maybe this petty bickering is bad for the team's morale?"
Darius' mood lightened for a moment as he replied, "Don't be silly, it's not bickering, it's... um... just friendly ribbing. I'd say it's a sure sign we're developing a sense of esprit de corps."
Emma took a moment to figure out what that subphrase meant; Alecstar was already well acquainted with the concept, from his military days. Everyone else got it a few seconds later than Emma.
Cameron was glad to hear Darius suddenly in a better mood, and hoped to continue that trend. "Anyway, I'm anxious to get a look at the wagon. I want to make sure LandOrder's Sorreters haven't screwed up my anti-scrying spell, while affecting their own magical repairs..."
By now they were back in front of the shop. The hostess came out and said, "We were wondering where you'd gone! Forget something, did you?"
Darius said, "Yeah, sorry. Lead us to our wagon, if you'd be so kind." She bowed, turned, and began walking. "By the way," he added, "thanks for the tea."
After parking the wagon in front of Dane's Diner, they suddenly heard someone call out, "Hey Dare, is that you?!"
Approaching the diner were two faces familiar to Darius and his parents; one of those faces was strangely familiar to the entire group. "Chris?" said Darius. "Dave?" He suddenly smiled broadly, and hurried over to meet them. "How are you guys? Long time no see."
"We're good," said Chris. "How 'bout you? Are all these people with you? I never would've expected to see you voluntarily part of such a large crowd."
Darius turned and looked back at his friends, who were now catching up with him. His parents were smiling, while everyone else... barely glanced at Chris, before turning to stare with dumbfounded expressions at Dave. Darius tried to think who to introduce first, his old friends or his current traveling companions. Quickly, he came to a realization. Hurriedly turning back to his old friends, he stammered, "Uh, guys, this is Anne Veil and Evan Wayfarer. I don't... suppose by any chance you've met them?" Darius himself had already gotten used to their glamours, and was worried his old friends might see through them and recognize his parents.
Chris said, "Uh... no, don't think so. Dave?"
Dave said, "Nope. Why? Should we have?"
"Oh, no. No reason. Heh, sorry, never mind."
Anne said, "Pleased to meet you both."
"Ohhhkay," said Chris. "Well, Darius, why don't you introduce your other friends, next?"
Darius turned to look at the group, and had barely opened his mouth to speak, when he was immediately forestalled by Tom. "Oh, no. What happens next is you tell us why that other guy," and he pointed at Dave, "looks exactly like you?"
Darius grinned, and turned back to Chris and Dave. "Okay. First, the fellow with whom I've just been speaking is one of my oldest friends, Chris... um, since the surname law, it's Chris Dennis'son. And the other chap, the one you're so eager to know about, is Dave MakeRoad." Emma looked at Darius with a raised eyebrow. He guessed she was wondering if this was the 'Dave' he had mentioned to her back in First River Forest, so he nodded.
"Actually," said Dave, "I just go by 'Dave Road,' now. Though I guess you'd do just as well to call me 'Streetrat.' Most folks do."
Tiejo exclaimed, "Tiejo Streetrat, I am! Good to meetings you, fellow!"
"Uh, yeah. Hi."
"Anyway," continued Darius, "Dave here just so happens to be my doppelgänger."
"Or he's mine," said Dave.
"Well, we're each other's."
"Wait," said Tino. "I've heard of doppelgängers. They're like, a kind of mythological thing, on Earth, right? Like some kind of ghost or something, which looks like a living person, and... seeing yours is supposed to be like a harbinger of death or some kind of bad stuff. Or maybe it is a sort of physical double that tries to take over your life or... ruin your reputation, or something. Right?"
"Something like that," said Darius. "Actually, I think there have been lots of different myths about them, which may sometimes conflict with one another. When Dave and I first met as children, we were at first surprised, but the subword 'doppelgänger' immediately came into both our heads. So, we did some studying on the subject at the library. There don't seem to be any reports of such things on the Land, though we did learn a bit about the Terran myths. But if you look at it as a natural phenomenon, rather than something supernatural... it's not unreasonable to think there could be someone out there who looks exactly the same as you, purely by coincidence. But the Land's population... well, it's only about half a million, at this point, whereas on Earth there are billions, at least. So there's more chances there for such coincidences, though I suppose... the myths may have even begun when their population was quite lower than it is now. So I dunno. But surely there'd need to be a fairly sizable population before these things occurred. And it seems unlikely that such doubles would happen to live close together, but rather might live in another country, or at least a distant town, or whatever. So it's unlikely that anyone would ever meet their double... which is why, being such an uncommon occurrence, that it would be so terribly unnerving to suddenly meet your double. And it might well lead people, especially relatively primitive people- and people on the Land were never truly primitive, the way people on Earth started out- to make up stories to explain such occurrences. And chances are, these stories would reflect their fears over the incidents, give dark, foreboding explanations for them. But, like I said, if you think about it rationally, there's no reason doppelgängers couldn't just be people, so there's no reason to assume they're evil or dark portents, or supernatural in any way. So... what if you met your doppelgänger early on, and they became a lifelong friend?" He shrugged. "It's really no stranger than twins; I mean, except for not having genetics as an explanation."
Tino nodded at all this, and simply said, "Okay, cool."
Tom said, "Well, I still think it's strange. But whatever; let's just get inside and get a table, okay?"
"Sure," said Darius. "Dave, Chris, you guys coming?"
"That's what we're here for," said Chris.
They all went in and sat down at a few tables, which servers pushed together for them, as Darius made the remaining introductions. Tom asked Dave how it is he could afford to eat here, if he was a street rat, and Dave told him Chris treated him once in a while.
"You know," observed Tom, "it almost seems like you two could be portents of bad things for each other. I assume you didn't start life out as a street rat, so maybe it's because of your association with Darius that you've fallen on hard times. And maybe it's because of his association with you that... well, you know. Things went badly for his clan."
Dave replied, "Interesting theory. But... meh. I doubt it. We knew each other for years before those things happened. You'd think if we were going to cause each other bad luck, it would manifest soon after we met. Besides, lots of people have bad luck in life... some of which we make for ourselves, and some which is simply unavoidable because of perfectly ordinary circumstances." After a few moments, he continued, "My family never had much money, as you might guess from the surname they chose, 'MakeRoad.' I don't know about other villages, but in Triscot, most clans with 'Make' in their names are considered lower class, the 'working poor,' as they say. And when demand for one's particular trade dies down, people have nothing to fall back on. Still, a lot of people with that prefix in their surname are doing alright. I've heard that some have tried to distance themselves from the social implications by shortening their surnames to 'Mk-Whatever,' instead of 'Make.' Personally I never saw the sense in that, though I do like the sound of it. So I just chose to drop the first half of my surname entirely. Of course, even that turned out to be kind of pointless, considering the latter half means 'street,' which makes it rather obvious for me to be called 'Streetrat.' Not that people need any reason beyond the fact that... well, I mostly live on the streets. But, I do get by. I'm a writer, you know, like Darius."
"To be fair, you're a far better writer than I am."
"Well, thanks for saying so, but I can't find any publishers who seem to agree."
"If it helps, you know, I probably wouldn't get published if this were, say, Earth. It's just that there are less people here, you don't need as big a readership. Believe me, not many people read my stuff."
"He's right," said Tino. "I've actually read some of his stuff, and I've read some stuff from other planets. I'm not saying Darius's writing isn't good, but... on most other planets, he wouldn't likely get published. It's just a lot harder on worlds that require larger readerships, as he said. Especially when you consider that on the Land, writers mostly just have their work sold to libraries, rather than individuals."
"Thanks, guys. It really helps to know that even on one of the easiest planets in the Universe on which to get published, I can't get published."
Tino and Darius turned to look at each other. Tino said, "We really didn't think that out very well, did we?"
They faced Dave again, and Darius said, "Sorry, buddy."
"Whatever," said Dave. "The point I was trying to make, before your little... pep talk... was that I can make a little money as a storyteller, in taverns or whatever. Maybe some tips from customers, if they're interested, and sometimes the owner will give me a free meal and drinks, possibly even a room for the night. Which is useful for washing up, seeing as I can't afford public bath houses."
"Well, good to hear your talents aren't going completely to waste," said Darius. "Though I do wish you had better luck. Hopefully... what my friends and I are trying to achieve will ultimately make things easier for you, but... I can't really talk about it, here and now. Oh... but speaking of bath houses, I wonder... have you met someone named Rune, uh... Parallelogram?"
Dave shook his head. "No, why?"
"Um... I just met him yesterday, and he... said something about... public baths. He's a, uh, street rat, too, and... Well, nevermind, it's not important."
Everyone was silent for a few centhours, as they perused their menus. Meanwhile, they could vaguely overhear a conversation coming from another table, behind a partition.
"...Well, Ash, if you're not making enough here, I'm sure you could get a job at this other place I work. Much busier than here, especially on We'yetdays, and the occasional Mo'enddays. I'm always hearing servers there complain about making like, eighty or a hundred capitals in a night, from tips. They say they need to average at least a hundred a day just to get by, and on really good nights, they can sometimes make two hundred or more. Of course, you know me, I hate to hear such things, when no matter how busy it is, my regular pay for washing dishes, which obviously doesn't get me tips, only averages about forty-two capitals per day, which of course I don't get til the end of the week. That's, after taxes, of course. And when you consider that most servers under-report their tips, they end up keeping most of it, paying a smaller percentage of their income than I do. So, of course, I can't afford to just work the one job, which is why I also work here, some days, though I don't make nearly as much here as I do there. I think even counting both jobs, I make less than some servers do at just one job... and some of them have more than one job, as well. But then, they have more bills than I do... I certainly can't afford a wagon or anything like that; not even a single strider. I have to walk everywhere, or get rides from coworkers, when possible. And most of them do have transportation, which I'm sure costs a lot not just to buy, but to maintain, what with ordinary repairs, inspections, and either recharging locomotion spells or keeping striders."
"How long a walk is it to where you live?"
"Oh, from here it's like a half hour; from my other job it's closer an hour. Sometimes I take public transportation, but that can get pretty expensive. The fee to or from my other job is nine capitals, which is a huge chunk of what I make in a day. If I did that both ways, hell, it'd be close to half my pay just to get to work and home again. ...But anyway, I complain too much. I get by, I have a roof overhead, food in my stomach, I can always go to the library for entertainment. Life's good. Though I do wish I could get friends to hang out more often, outside of work... but I don't know why anyone even thinks of me as a friend, with all the complaining I do. But they do seem to like me there. So... um, my point, at the outset of this whole rant, was that if you like, I could put in a good word for you, there."
"Crockett, you're so sweet! I wish you would see that it makes perfect sense that people like you. And thanks, by the way. I'll be sure to drop by one night when you're working, and you could introduce me to your manager. Actually, my brother Ty could use a job, too..."
"Well, when you've been working there awhile, you could put in a good word for him, yourself. Seeing as I've never met him."
"Okay. Oh, by the way, I don't think I asked you the name of the other place you work."
"Emerald Honeytree. Don't even ask me where they came up with a name like that. But they've got good food, and I really am fond of my coworkers."
"Oh yeah, I've heard of that... I've been meaning to try eating there sometime. I hear it's a chain that started in Sorret over five hundred years ago!"
"Right, that was in the packet they make new employees read, I guess. I don't remember it well, but it wasn't until the twentieth generation after it was founded that they began expanding to other villages, about thirty years ago or so..."
"The packet didn't have an explanation of the name?"
It was at this point that the silence at the Chaos tables was broken by a server arriving to ask if they were ready to order. They did so, and the server went to the kitchen. After she left, a man stopped by the table and said, "Hey, Darius, long time no see. How've you been?" Before Darius could answer, the man continued, "Dave and Chris are here too, huh? I see you guys more often, but it's been years since I saw the three of you together. Where's Rob? I've been meaning to ask for awhile now."
Chris said, "Hey, Dane. Well, Rob moved to Tanq awhile back. Met a girl there, got married. They have a kid named Dev, now."
Dane nodded. "That's nice. Anyway, wish I could stay and talk, but... things are pretty busy, right now."
"Okay, nice to see you," said Chris.
"Yeah," said Darius. As the diner's owner walked away, Darius turned to Chris and said, "So, married, huh? And a father? Wow, I guess it's been too long since I've talked to Rob. I should give him a call."
"There's a lot of people you should probably call more often."
"Uh... well, yeah. Sorry. You know I'm not much good at that. But of course, t-mail works both ways."
Chris grinned. "Yeah, I guess you're right. I have no excuse for not keeping in touch, either, aside from being pretty busy with work."
"Funny," Tom said suddenly, "how the advances introduced during the Coming of the Order that were meant to keep people connected don't always work out the way they're supposed to."
"Well, the Order can't be blamed for that," said Darius. "The fault lies in ourselves. All of us."
"If you say so."
Darius did a lot of catching up with his old friends over lunch, with his new friends frequently joining in the conversation. When they all exited the diner, he told them he'd be sure to see them again before leaving town, if he could. Otherwise, he'd at least do a better job of keeping in touch via t-mail.
"Now then," said Darius, facing the entire group, "Who's going to Shanty with me?"
"I'd love to," said Chris, "but I'm afraid I have to get back to work. I've already taken a longer lunch break than I intended. Catch you later, Dare." He nodded to his old friends and new acquaintances, and departed.
Darius looked at Dave next, but he didn't seem ready to speak just yet. Much like Darius himself, Dave usually felt like he was the least important person in any group, and would prefer to be the last to speak, if he did so at all.
Darius's mother spoke up, at this point. "I'm going, of course. I haven't seen Lance in quite some time." Turning to her husband, she asked, "What about you, Evan?"
"Wish I could, Anne, but... well, with all this Chaos business, I've been neglecting my regular business the past couple of days. I really should get back to that, to avoid rousing suspicions. Besides which... I still need to earn a living," he said with a grin.
"Well," said Tom, "I've never been to Shanty. I'm kind of curious to see what it's like."
"Tiejo also being curious!" exclaimed the street rat. "Wanting to see how it's changed since last I was there, during Coming of Order."
"As for myself," said Emma, "I was thinking maybe we Band-mates should hang out on our own, today. Not that we don't like our new traveling companions, but it's been awhile since it was just the five of us." Her friends nodded their assent at this idea.
Turning to the spy, Darius asked, "Jasp, what about you? Is there perhaps a LandOrder branch in Shanty that we should contact? If so, you should come with us."
"Are you kidding? The place is crawling with pirates! Have you seen many pirates? Lotta those dudes are hella scary. And when I say 'dudes,' I don't just mean the guys."
"Hey, one of those 'dudes' you're talking about is my little cousin, Cara, you know."
"Maybe, but the last time you saw her, she was, what, eight or nine years old? She'd be a grown woman, now. You have no way of knowing how much she's changed in the last eight years. ...But anyway, I'm not talking about your family or potential allies, I'm talking about potential enemies of gangs. Our own enforcers might be tough when dealing with your average, upstanding citizens, or even other gangs' enforcers. But pirates are a whole other breed, not easily intimidated. Hell, even the Aku wouldn't be dumb enough to try to set up shop, there. LandOrder and InterGang certainly have no designs on the town. I'll stay here, thanks."
Darius shrugged and said, "Suit yourself." He was just turning to Dave again, now that everyone else had made their decisions, when suddenly he heard someone calling from behind him.
"Hello, everyone. Am I too late for lunch, then?" Darius turned to see Rune approaching from across the street. When he reached them, he stopped suddenly and said, "Oh... I beg your pardon. From a distance, I thought you looked... like people I met, the other day."
Darius looked a bit confused. "Huh? Of course you- oh, right. We were... not quite ourselves, that day. But it was us with whom you had lunch. Sorry you missed it, today. But since you're here, I might as well introduce you to those who weren't with us that day: Evan Wayfarer, Anne Veil, and Dave Road. Guys, this is Rune Parallelogram. Tiejo and I met him the other day, then the rest of us had lunch with him."
"He's the one you mentioned earlier?" asked Dave.
"A distinct pleasure to meet you all, I'm sure," said Rune, shaking hands in turn with Evan and Anne. Dave was slower to accept the offered hand, but did shake it, however reluctantly. Clearly, Darius and his doppelgänger had more in common than just looks. "Anyway," said Rune, turning back to Darius, "not sure what you meant about not being yourselves, but I'll take your word for it. Lot of strange things have become ordinary, since the Coming. Now... if I may ask, where are you lot off to?"
"A few of us are heading to Shanty," said Darius, "but some... well, we'll leave here, to their own devices, until we get back."
"Shanty?! I haven't been there in quite awhile, but I've actually got an old friend there, who I'd like to see, if he's in port. I don't suppose I could hitch a ride?"
Darius shrugged. "Sure, why not? Maybe you could introduce us to that friend. A sailor, is he?"
Rune grinned. "Sort of. A pirate, actually."
"What a coincidence... he may be just the sort we're looking for."
So, Rune climbed into the back of the wagon, along with Tom and Tiejo. Dave hesitated, but soon followed them. Anne took up a position in the cockpit, where Darius planned to join her. But first, he worked up the nerve to reach out and grasp Cameron's shoulder, as he was turning to leave with his friends. The ex-Sorreter turned to look at him, and Darius dropped his hand. He said, "Remind me later, I want you to tell me everything you know about 'bittrickle.'"
Cameron smiled and said, "Nice to see your memory working a bit better. And don't worry... I'll be happy to tell you everything I can... but I need to make a call first. In private. I'll talk to you tonight, when we all get back to the estate, okay?"
"Good. Well... have fun."
"You too." Cameron turned and walked away, and Darius climbed into the cockpit beside his mother. Once she was sure everyone was on board, she flicked the reins, and set the striders in motion....
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