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Chapter 36
8 Sp'mo' (Wor'ginday)

1

Marshal Poss Primus arrived at the Royal Palace at Second One and Fifty, though his meeting with Demos wasn't scheduled until Second Two. He waited patiently in the lobby outside the king's throne room, sitting quietly on the couch, while the king's secretary sat quietly behind her desk. It was about twenty-five centhours later that Demos himself arrived, expecting to have a quarter of an hour to get himself settled in for the day, before his meeting with Poss.

"Ah, Marshal, I see you're early. I should have expected it. I hope you don't mind waiting a few more centhours, but I should be ready to see you soon. Probably a few centhours earlier than scheduled."

"Of course, Your Majesty."

"I'll be in my office," said Demos, referring to a private room at the end of a short hallway that could only be accessed from within the throne room. The marshal simply nodded; he knew the room well.

Ten centhours after Demos entered the throne room, a chime sounded in the lobby, and his secretary said, "The king will see you now."

"Thank you," said Poss, before making his way to the king's office.

"Well, good morning," said Demos, as the door closed behind Poss. "Sorry to have kept you waiting."

Poss was unsure if the king was referring to the last ten centhours or the last few days. Presumably the latter, though he didn't want to say anything that might indicate an erroneous assumption on his part. He merely replied, "Not at all. I'm just happy to make my report, as scheduled." He approached Demos's desk and handed him a folder containing his written account of his recent trip to Kimrin, Near Port, and Port. He then took a seat facing the desk, while Demos skimmed through the report.

After a few centhours, the king looked up at the marshal and said, "When I spoke to you almost a week ago, you expressed some concerns over security, which I don't see represented in this report."

"Yes. Well, it's rumors, really. No evidence of anything, so I didn't want to include such talk in an official report. Nevertheless, I did feel it important to speak with you about this matter, in person."

"Very well, then: speak."

Poss took a deep breath, and paused for a few moments before beginning. He reflected how funny it is that one can feel such sudden apprehension about finally beginning something one had been so eager to get to, until the moment finally arrives to do so. "It's a difficult subject. The thing is, I have heard disturbing reports from some of my most trusted people... reports which would cast aspersions on other of my most trusted people. Which, naturally, puts me in an uncomfortable position. I very much want to believe these reports to be wrong- and surely an honest mistake, rather than a calculated effort on the part of my sources to slander anyone. And yet, I would be remiss if I dismissed these accusations out of hand. A thorough investigation must be made to determine the validity or lack thereof, of these reports. But such an investigation must be handled quietly. The integrity of certain persons must absolutely not be called into question without clear proof of their guilt. Not officially, and not unofficially; for even when innocence has been proven, doubts might still remain in some people's minds, and that could be disastrous, particularly in situations where men and women are required to follow a leader's orders without hesitation. And as much as I want to avoid damaging the reputations of the innocent, I also want to avoid alerting the potentially guilty to my suspicions, for fear it would give them the chance to cover up their guilt, before I've had a chance to discover it."

"Oh, certainly, I understand all that. Two questions, though: Who are these sources, and what exactly are these accusations of which you speak?"

"As to the first question, Your Majesty, I'm afraid I'm not at liberty to say. As I said, I'm sure that if they are mistaken, it is an honest mistake. And as much as I want to protect the reputations of the accused in the case of their innocence, I must also protect the reputations of my sources, if they turn out to be wrong."

"Very well. And as to the second question?"

"Well, in a broad sense, it has been suggested to me that there may be a conspiracy at work, among certain highly placed individuals within the military, and possibly within the government itself, as well as independent agencies such as the police, the courts, etc. It's unclear exactly how widespread such a conspiracy might actually be, assuming it exists at all. Also unclear are the number and varied natures of the illegal activities in which these conspirators might be involved. But their aim is apparently to exert more control over the world than the law allows them."

"I see. Disturbing news, indeed. Though one can't help but wonder why anyone should feel the need to engage in such shadowy machinations, if they're already as highly placed as you say. Certainly, the very idea of having such power at all is still fairly novel, and anyone who has even a legal degree of power now is... well, legitimately more powerful than anyone could have conceived of, less than a generation ago, and stretching back to the very creation of the Land itself. Which makes the accusation of anyone finding that insufficient... rather far-fetched. But you said, 'in a broad sense,' and I assume your choice of words was meant to imply that, even if your sources have not revealed the full scope of the alleged conspiracy's actions, they at least have suggested one narrower sense, some particular crime?"

"Very perceptive, Your Majesty. Yes. I can't give you any details as yet, but my sources have suggested that the conspirators have been provided with alien technology, in violation of the Prohibition of Off-world Technology."

"How ironic that would be!" said Demos with a chuckle.

"Your Majesty?"

"I just meant... that law, as you know, was inspired by the Laser Plot, which was staged by Protestant terrorists after the war ended. It strikes me as ironic that those who are already in power would try to obtain even greater power by stealing a play from the ones who lost the war in the first place."

"Ah. Yes, I suppose you're right. Though irony isn't my primary concern..."

"Of course, Marshal. I apologize for giving the appearance of taking this matter too lightly. Of course if it's true, there are very frightening implications. It reminds me of a Terran saying I once heard: 'If you outlaw guns, only the outlaws will have guns.' Perhaps that quote applies more aptly to another law, the Limitation of Handheld Weaponry. Luckily, no criminals have thus far broken that law; but for a conspiracy to be in possession of weapons- and I assume you were speaking of weapons- beyond the ability of Landian science to produce, that's even scarier than the thought of them possessing weapons our science could produce on its own."

"True. Though I wasn't speaking necessarily of weapons. I said I couldn't provide details, and that's because my sources themselves are uncertain specifically what type of technology the conspiracy has obtained. Of course, weaponry is a reasonable guess."

"Anyway, I have to assume your desire to discuss this matter with me was the reason you were anxious to move your appointment to a time prior to my address the other night. Though I can't quite see how it would have affected anything I had to say. I'm not sure it necessarily relates to the subjects of the address. More importantly, if all this is to be kept quiet, for now, it's not like I would have brought it up in the address."

"No, Your Majesty, of course you're right. Actually, my main concern was that I had no idea what, precisely, you were planning on talking about in your address. So, I couldn't be sure whether this matter or any more ordinary details of my recent inspection of the military facilities in the northern villages would potentially affect or be affected by your address. And to an extent, my eagerness to meet with you wasn't even related to the address at all, but merely the feeling that the matter should be brought to your attention as soon as possible."

"If that's the case, perhaps you should allow yourself to utilize the services of military Sorreters, to translocate you between villages rather than traveling via more conventional transportation."

"Well, you're not wrong. It's just that I'm not in the habit of being translocated. And while it's not as though I never avail myself of such services, it is known by many that I almost certainly wouldn't do so unless time was of the essence. And... perhaps when I said I wanted to talk to you as soon as possible, that was a bit misleading. It was more about my own eagerness to inform you of this so that I could get on with conducting my investigation. I didn't mean to suggest that the conspiracy is ready to make any imminent moves. I'm sure there's plenty of time. But if I had translocated here, that could have seemed suspicious. Certain people might wonder why I was in such a hurry, when everything seemed to be quite normal in the bases I visited up north. In fact, that the return trip to First Village took almost two weeks was part of my plan to throw the alleged conspirators off guard. Now that they know I'm here, no doubt they'll feel safer carrying on their plans. Meanwhile, I could have a Sorreter I trust translocate me wherever I want to go, whenever I need to, and just as quickly get me back here, so that there'd be no evidence I'd ever left. The false sense of security provided to the conspirators by my well-known penchant for... taking the scenic route... would be an invaluable asset in my investigation."

Demos nodded. "Makes sense. Good thinking, Marshal. I wish you luck with that. By all means, let me know if there's anything I can do to help."

"Thank you, Your Majesty. I don't know that there's anything you'll be able to do, for the time being. In fact, it would be best if you act as if you know nothing of the matter. Go about your life and your duties as normal. Discuss this with no one. But keep your eyes and ears open for any hint that anyone you meet with might be involved, and let me know if anything strikes you as suspicious. For the most part, though, I just told you about this to keep you in the loop."

Demos smiled, a bit wryly. "Well, thank you for that. Meanwhile, I'm guessing you had other matters you wanted to discuss, particularly after watching my address."

"Yes. About the matter of eliminating or cutting back on the military, I certainly understand the motivating factors, but I think it would be unwise, at a time like this. It's possible the conspiracy could make themselves into an enemy, and we should be ready for that. On an unrelated note, I've also heard from one of my agents that there is a group of adventurers who are suspected of plotting rebellion. There's no evidence that there's any truth to that, but certainly it's one more thing for which we should be prepared."

"Yes, I believe they call themselves 'The Chaos.' Of course my own sources have informed me of that. For the time being, it is considered a matter for InterVil. The group is quite small, as yet, and the notion of their mounting any sort of actual insurrection is laughable, at least for the foreseeable future. Perhaps several years down the line, if left unchecked, they could become a problem for the military to deal with, but for now... not so much. However, speaking of InterVil... I've actually been toying with the idea of making that organization a Congressional department, rather than an independent agency, and giving it stricter control of the police. The same also goes for the Coast Guard. It would make things simpler than the idea I mentioned the other night... I did say my feelings were not determined with any precision, but of course that doesn't mean I hadn't given the matter some thought. I simply didn't wish to make my thoughts known until I was more sure of my position. But what I'm thinking is, if those two agencies are brought under federal jurisdiction rather than local, it would mean... well, if the police could be used as an army in time of war, and the Coast Guard as a navy, and the current Army and Navy eliminated, we might not need to raise any taxes, while potentially lowering local ones."

"Except, of course, that there's still the question of increasing funding to the police."

"Which wouldn't be a problem, if we were no longer employing the military, as such."

"But I'd think the money you saved on military spending would barely cover the new expense of employing the police and Coast Guard, as they currently are. I mean, before any expansion."

"True... as I said, I'm still thinking it over. But the fact is, a large percentage of the public doesn't want a standing military, anyway. They're seen as a waste of money, when there is little possibility of war. Many people are understandably unclear on what the military actually does, these days. It's getting harder to convince them that you people do anything at all, I'm afraid. On the other hand, crime is more out of hand than ever, so everyone would be happier to have a stronger police force... perhaps even if it did mean a slight increase in taxes. Now listen, I told you the other night, there's nothing to worry about, and I meant it. Whatever ultimately happens, I greatly value your service and your loyalty, and I will of course extend the same loyalty to you. One way or another, you will have a job."

"I appreciate that, Your Majesty. And because I am loyal, I feel I should point out that such a plan would mean giving up a large chunk of your own power. As it stands, I report directly to you, and you therefore are directly in control of the military. But if there were no military, and InterVil and the Coast Guard were controlled by Congress... well, that's another branch entirely."

"Yes, but of course I'd be the one appointing the director of any new Congressional department. Officially I'd be relinquishing control, but unofficially... I'd retain some influence."

"That's not-" but he broke off before finishing the thought. He'd been about to say 'strictly legal.'

Demos knew what Poss was thinking, without him even saying it. So he grinned and said, "Relax, Marshal, I was kidding. I mean, obviously I'm not likely to appoint directors whose positions on key issues diverge wildly from my own; who would? But neither will I appoint anyone who doesn't clearly deserve the position, based on their track record. Besides which, I can only select directors from among those who have already been elected to Congress by the public. And once I've appointed them, they will be obliged to do the best job they can. If they do a job which either I, or Congress, or the High Court, or public opinion at large, deems unacceptable, they may be removed from the position, and possibly removed from office altogether. And certainly I am not going to dictate their policies for them. I have my own duties to attend to. In fact, it might be nice to have that much more free time. Not that I don't enjoy our little chats. And who knows? Perhaps you yourself might run for Congress. I'm sure the public has great respect for you, and would also feel a certain sympathy if you lost your job, if and when the military was disbanded. I don't doubt you could easily win a seat. And because of your loyalty, and the fact that I know as well as anyone what an exemplary job you've always done, I'd be inclined to appoint you director of InterVil or the Coast Guard... or both, depending on how the reorganizing went."

"You're very kind. Though I'm more immediately concerned with what to tell my subordinates, who may be currently fearing for their own jobs, and who don't have you as a potential benefactor. Besides which, I'm getting old. I'm about ready for retirement."

"Oh, I know you. You'd get bored. I'm sure you'd rather work right up til your dying day. But I do understand that you must be more tired than you once were. Which makes a government job better than a military one. Even if you may never again see active duty, assuming there are no more wars, I'm sure you have a much more active lifestyle than any Congressman, even those much younger than yourself. I think you'd be better off with a job that allows you to relax more than you currently do, while simultaneously giving the public the perception that you're doing more than they think you do, now. Again, I do enjoy irony."

"And again, you're concentrating on what's best for me, while I'm concentrating on what's best for my troops."

"Yes, well... as you yourself so politically avoided pointing out a centhour ago, it's not for me to control everything that happens in the government, myself. If you were in Congress, you'd actually be in a better position to help your people."

"Hmmm. You have a point. Still, that's mere speculation; it holds no guarantees for the future and no assurances for the present."

"Well, you may be assured that there will be no changes in the status of the military at least until after the election. Your people should certainly feel secure that long. And again, I've said that I am more inclined toward helping the military than someone like Jared Localpride. Naturally, I'm assuming I can count on your vote, come Su'yet. And while I wouldn't dream of trying to unduly influence any of your troops, hopefully they do see that having me remain in office is going to be in their own best interests, one way or another. Meanwhile, I leave you with this final thought: We all believe in a united world government, military or no military. The whole reason for the Army and Navy's existence, originally, was to ensure that that dream would come true. And so it did. I don't doubt that you take pride in the part you played in achieving that dream, back in 903. But imagine if Localpride became king. Think not just of the fact that he'd do everything in his power to disband the military, but that he'd leave control of the police and Coast Guard in the hands of villages. Which would surely result in just what I said in my address: lowering federal taxes and raising local ones. In spite of the fact that he would technically be the ruler of the whole world, he'd ultimately be making villages more powerful independently, rather than as parts of a whole. It's right there in his name, for God's sake! This isn't something I'd say publicly, because no one ever got elected by running a damn smear campaign- people hate that sort of thing- but just between you and me, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the man was running for federal office specifically to break the country apart again. There's some more irony, for you. Anyway, I'm sure you don't want that any more than I do. Well... aside from the fact that villages being separate would make war seem like a stronger possibility, thus making the military's continued existence seem more necessary."

"Sir, you cut me to the quick."

"Kidding again, of course. I know you hate war. The head of the military... oh, you are irony personified, which is one of the reasons I like you, Poss. Besides, if there wasn't a central government, there'd be no central military, anyway. Who the hell would you even work for? Kimrin, I suppose. And honestly, the weather in First Village is much better for someone thinking about retirement. If you want to stay here... best that you do your part to keep the world whole."

"Of course I want to keep the world whole. And of course I'm planning on voting for you." He sighed. "Well, it's not like it's my job exclusively to reassure the troops, any more than it's your job exclusively to dictate public policy. Of course I'll talk with General Middlebury and Admiral Portman about all this; they can do their parts to help keep up morale among the Army and Navy, respectively. In fact, relying on them for that should free me up to concentrate on my investigation."

"Good show, man. Get to it, then. And again, good luck with that. Keep me apprised."

"Yes, Your Majesty. Good day."

"Good day, Marshal."

2

Cameron got a message to his friends that he'd decided to spend the night with LandOrder; Chief Lymon escorted him to some other facility of theirs. He wanted to get a bright and early start, Wor'ginday morning, training the entire sorretry department in every aspect of the bittrickle spell. He said with any luck, the first batch of bubbles would be ready by that night, and his work would be done. After that, the rest would be up to LandOrder's Sorreters.

While Cameron was busy with that, his friends all spent the day on the Lonewander estate. Darius spent as much time as he could with his relatives, as he supposed he'd probably be leaving, tomorrow. But as evening neared, he suddenly got up from the table, where he'd been sitting with his father, uncle, Ginger, and Tino, and wandered off. He hadn't taken part in their idle conversation, so no one paid his departure any mind. After awhile, however, Ginger began to worry, just a bit. She remembered Emma having told her about Darius's bout of depression, back on the very first night of their journey, and how talking had helped snap him out of it. In the two weeks since then, they'd all gotten used to his mood swings, both from observation and from the things he'd told them about himself. But the majority of the time he seemed okay, so they'd learned not to worry too much about it. Still, she wondered if someone should check on him.

When she voiced her concern, Tino replied, "I think I know where he's probably gone. I told you about the threenut grove, right?"

"Oh yeah. I've been meaning to check that out, anyway. Care to show me the way?"

"Sure. Follow me."

They found him sitting against a tree. Ginger asked, "Hey, Darius, what's up?"

"Um... nothing much. You know I just sometimes get uncomfortable around people. Even friends and family. Especially when my presence seems to serve no purpose. People often seem to have conversations that bore me, or at least that I can think of nothing to add to. Or even if I do think of something to say, sometimes I just... can't. Or if I could, I feel like no one would be interested in what I said. So... I dunno. I just see no reason to stick around."

"Oh. I thought you might be getting depressed."

"Eh, I'm okay. Ish. But thanks for your concern. I can't tell you how often in my life I've gone off to be alone because I'm terribly depressed, and at least half-hoping someone will follow me and try to cheer me up... but no one does. Which is just as well, because when I'm like that, I usually find that I can't bring myself to talk about it, even if anyone does bother to ask how I am. It's very odd."

"Actually, I totally understand. But... if you feel okay at the moment, would you mind some company?"

"Not at all."

They both sat down against another tree, facing him. "So, what were you thinking about, before we showed up?" asked Tino.

"My thoughts were kind of scattered. I guess when I first left the table, like I said, I was thinking about how rare it is for me to find any common conversational ground with people... especially my own family. Which led me to think that, in spite of loving my family- and maybe even liking them more than I remembered- I know I won't miss them much, after we leave. That's something I hate about myself. I'm really glad they're alive, of course, and it's nice to know I'll see them again. But I'm sure I could easily go months without seeing them, and then when I do, I'll probably have had my fill of them within a couple of days. And I know some of them will want me to stay longer. And I'll feel guilty about not wanting to.

"But before I could get depressed about that, my mind wandered to the fact that I just don't feel like I truly know anyone. I mean, people's personalities can seem familiar to me, in the sense that the things they say and do almost always seem... in character. But then again, most of the things people say and do wouldn't seem out of character for just about anyone to say or do. I know there may be subtle distinctions between individuals, and to some degree I may be unconsciously aware of the way each person I know talks or behaves, but if I try to think how to describe them... I can't. Aside from broad generalizations, anyway. People can be nice or mean, funny or dull, things like that. It's really frustrating, because I feel like other people are much better at distinguishing the personalities of their friends and relatives, whereas to my own perception, even the people I care about can seem sort of... interchangeable. And I hate thinking of people as interchangeable."

"Well, if you want to get to know people better, perhaps you should try harder to get involved in conversations, instead of walking away from them," suggested Ginger.

"I have tried. And sometimes I do; you know that, I've had conversations with all of you. But even when I do talk, and listen, to people... it doesn't help me understand who they are. On the other hand, in some things I've read, there are fictional characters with extreme personalities, which are easy to see as different. But they usually seem totally unrealistic. They may be amusing or cool or likable-even lovable-in a story, but I feel that most of them, if I met them in real life, I'd just find terribly annoying."

"I know what you mean," said Tino. "For example, I probably wouldn't like Tiejo nearly as much in real life."

Ginger rolled her eyes. "Uh, this is real life, dear."

"Is it? Never mind, then. I guess he really is awesome."

"Anyway," said Darius, "aside from over-the-top unique characters, I've read some who seem very genuine, very real. Like people I could be great friends with, if I met them in real life. Which confuses me even more: how can I think complex characters are realistic if I have so much trouble seeing real people as complex?"

Ginger replied, "Well, maybe it's just easier for you to get to know fictional characters, because you don't have to be around them, so your social anxiety doesn't kick in. Or maybe it's because their personality was important to the story the writer was trying to tell, whereas in real life, most casual social interaction doesn't require people to bare their souls. And if you're uncomfortable with casual interaction, you're not likely to develop relationships to the point where you have the sort of deep connection that allows you to get to know a person that well. I think that's true for most Landians, because of the Fall. But I'm sure it's even truer for you."

"And yet, I can have conversations like the one we're having now- which I greatly appreciate- but I still don't feel like I know you."

"Maybe that's because you're the one doing all the soul-baring."

"Ah. Sadly, I never seem to have reason to ask others to bare their souls. It's a shame more people don't suffer depression."

"True that," said Tino with a grin. "I'm practically never sad, and I'm a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."

"That you are, my love," said Ginger with a grin of her own. "But mostly you're just a goofball."

Turning serious, Tino said to Darius, "Still, it's not surprising if you feel you don't have a deep understanding of precisely who each of us is. You haven't known any of us very long, and we all have reasons to be guarded. Some more than others; there isn't much Tiejo hides, as far as I can tell. And Emma's basically a heart-on-her-sleeve kinda gal. But none of us are the most open people in the world. Give it time. I'm sure sooner or later, we'll break through the sameness you see in everyone."

"I hope so," said Darius. "Then again, maybe I'm just over-thinking things; I tend to do that. Words aren't always so important; maybe defining how a person is unique isn't an essential prerequisite to knowing them. I did say that people can seem familiar to me, and maybe that's all there really is to it. I have this deep-seated need for everything in life to make sense to me, to be fully explainable, but I suppose not everything is. After all, friendship, family, relationships of any kind... they're not science."

"There ya go," said Ginger. "And anyway, there's nothing wrong with people being largely the same as one another. They can still be nice, they can be fun and funny, they can be flawed, they can be interesting. And every now and then, they can still surprise you. Being the same as everyone else on the surface doesn't necessarily mean being bland, or predictable. It just means being human."

"I suppose," said Darius. "I just wish I could feel more human, myself. And more connected to the people I like or love."

"I know it's hard. But believe me, you do better than you think. And by the way, you've seemed a bit more relaxed, since we found your family. I think the time you've spent with them has been better for you than you realize. And even before that, you were starting to seem more comfortable with all of us than you did when we began our journey. Maybe eventually you'll overcome your anxiety altogether."

Darius sighed. "No. There have always been times that I feel better about myself, and periods without serious depression. But these respites never last. My emotional state may seem to improve, but I'll always backslide. You know, this isn't one of those adventure stories by Jaspar, where the uncertain young hero finally finds his confidence and overcomes his self-doubt. What I have is a disorder, not something you can just grow out of."

"I'm sorry. I just meant..." She stopped, uncertain what to say.

"Shou ga nai. But for now, I am reasonably happy to be among friends and family. Speaking of which, we should head back to the main hall." He stood up. "It must be about supper time; maybe I'll get to know everyone a bit better while we eat."

3

Adam and Kuris watched Ginger and Tino head out after Darius. Their departure caused a brief lull in the conversation, until Kuris suddenly changed the subject they'd been discussing.

Once their guests were out of hearing, he said, "You know... Darius is a good kid, and obviously smart. But I can't help wondering if we're wise to put so much faith in him. I mean, what are the odds he'll actually succeed, where we once failed? At the best of times, he tends to be a bit... immature, even flaky. And then there are the times he just falls apart, usually for no reason. I don't blame him, I know it's not his fault. But... he really doesn't seem like leader material."

Adam replied, "I completely understand how you feel. But Darius has grown up a lot since the last time we saw him. True, he still suffers from the same emotional and social challenges, but... I'm sure that when it's important, he'll have the strength to overcome those challenges. Besides, he's not fighting for the same thing we were. Remember, our fight was all or nothing; his goals are a bit more attainable, I think. We were fighting progress. We had our reasons, and I stand by them; but still, I've come to realize in the years since then that we should have gone about things differently. We should have tried harder to compromise, to find some middle ground. It's obvious in hindsight that... no, I shouldn't say 'in hindsight.' Even back then, before the war, it was obvious that much of what the Order was doing to change the world was genuinely for the better. You know that as well as anyone, of course. You and Lucia took part in those changes, and tried to argue with me, at the time... to convince me I was being myopic. And you were right. I've always been grateful that you both joined us, in the end, just as I've always been sorry that that meant you were stuck here, away from your family in Kurok, all these years. Believe me, I understand, because I've missed being able to visit my family in Ship. But I think the fact that you did join our side is proof that I wasn't all wrong, either.

"But the point I'm getting at is that Darius understands that both sides in the war were right in some ways, and wrong in some ways. Most importantly, that means he doesn't have to force the entire population of the world to choose one side or the other, as we tried to do. All he has to do is appeal to their sense that things aren't quite right. Even those who believe the world is better now than it once was will likely believe that it could be better still. And if he can show them a way that they believe would make things better... then he'll win, without a doubt."

"There's some logic in that, but I still think he's starting from a disadvantage. The Order had to change the whole world the first time, whereas now all they have to do is keep it the same. Besides which, their power base is far more firmly entrenched than it was, before the war. By that logic, it should be far harder for Darius than it was for the Protestant Movement."

Adam grinned. "Well, it sounds as if you're casting the Order as the undermonogs in the first war. And they won. Maybe history will repeat, and the new undermonogs will win this time, too."

Kuris rolled his eyes. "You're purposefully missing my point."

"I know. Sorry. But listen... in spite of the fact that the task the Order set for itself seemed the greater challenge, in terms of scope, it was actually the Protestants who started from a disadvantage. True, we were just trying to keep the world the same, but on the other hand, the enemy had years to prepare for the fight, before we had any idea there was even going to be a fight. But in changing the world as they did, they laid the most fundamentally important groundwork for Darius's rebellion. That is, they showed people that it was possible to change the world. I mean, obviously the world has always changed. There's always been progress, in terms of science and engineering and such. There have even sometimes been social as well as technological changes. The most notable being the establishment of the Order itself, five hundred years before the war. But before the Plan, I don't think anyone had ever looked at the world in its entirety and said, 'I wonder if we could change that. Change everything, in some fundamental way. Change the way the entire population of the planet looks at the world and how they choose to live their lives.' Part of the appeal of the changes introduced by the Order, the idea of uniting the world the way they did... it was the sheer novelty of it. It's a hard thing not to get caught up in, that awe at the enormity of the undertaking, and the excitement of choosing to be a part of it. But now... now the idea is old. It's been done. Which could count against Darius and anyone who joins his cause. People might be bored with the idea of change, on that scale. But, what I believe is that what really hindered the Protestant Movement was that most people didn't really think it was possible for things to change that much. Once it was clear that change was inevitable, most of those who'd been on the fence, jumped on board with the Order. Or perhaps most people didn't jump on board until the change was a fait accompli. True, many of them might have been on the side of the Order anyway, if they'd thought anything would come of what they were trying to do. But it's also possible many more would have been on our side. And if they saw a second wave of change coming... this time they might jump on early enough to make a difference. Because this time they'd know change was possible." He grinned again. "Thanks to the Order."

"You know... maybe you should have been a lawyer."

"Nah. I'm a better salesman."

"Now that you mention it, my master once said there's not much difference between the two professions."

It was then that Emma walked in, followed by Cameron, who had just arrived back from LandOrder. "What're we talking about?" asked Emma.

Adam replied, "Oh, we were just saying how we hope Darius and the rest of you succeed, because we miss our respective home villages."

"Yes," agreed Kuris. "And Adam has been trying, not without some success, to convince me Darius is the right man for the job of making it safe for us to visit those villages, again. Though I can't say I'm entirely convinced. So tell me, why do you follow him?"

"Well, at first... I'm not sure. None of us had revolution in mind, at all. Actually, it may have just seemed like an adventure that wouldn't amount to anything. Just a bit of fun, you know? But if there was a chance it could come to more than that, it was something we all wanted to be a part of. I can understand your hesitation at accepting Darius as a capable leader, though that's not something we saw until we'd already begun the journey. But after awhile... I dunno, it's like his good traits just seemed to outweigh his flaws, whether he sees that or not. And after all, nobody's perfect."

"And then," said Cameron, "a little over a week ago, Darius himself came up with an answer to why anyone should choose to follow him. Which is a bit impressive, considering no one could possibly question his qualifications more than he does, himself."

"What'd he say?" asked Adam.

"He said, 'I'm the only one who's even trying.'"

"Ah," said Kuris. "Well, that's a convincing argument, though I don't know about comforting..."

"Anyway," said Adam, "how's your own project progressing?"

Cameron grinned. "Oh, quite well, thanks. But I think I'll wait for everyone to get here for supper before sharing the details...."

4

Once everyone in the Chaos and the Lonewander clan were sitting around the supper table, Cameron began to relate the main points of what he'd been doing since yesterday afternoon. There was actually little to tell, for the bulk of it would have meant nothing to non-Sorreters. But he did say that he had some bubbles to pass out, after the meal. He suddenly realized Jasp wasn't present, and asked where he was.

Darius said, "Oh. Well, he called Cabbit before returning to the estate yesterday, and made plans to go back to Tonad today. So, after breakfast this morning, he said his final goodbyes to everyone, and also said he was sorry he wouldn't get to say goodbye to you. We probably should have mentioned that sooner. Sorry. I guess I assumed Emma already told you all this."

"Hey, I was gonna," said Emma, "but... before I could, we got drawn into a conversation with your father and uncle. And then before I knew it... it was now."

Darius grinned. "Okay. It's not like I was accusing you of anything." He turned back to Cameron. "Anyway, so then he walked into town to call a Sorreter from Tonad, to translocate him home."

"Sorry I missed him. Anyway, I guess that means I have an extra t-mail bubble. Oh well, I'll figure out someone to give it to, or else I can give it to Chief Lymon to pass on to someone."

Cameron went on to explain that while the bubbles had already been enchanted to connect to the network which would eventually be established, they still required enchantment to authorize a specific person to use each one, before they'd work. And then, not even anyone else who was authorized to use the network would be able to use any bubble but their own. This final bit of enchantment could only be cast by a Sorreter who knew the specifics of this new network, and only when the person who was being authorized to use a bubble was holding it. he explained the final enchantment procedure, which included each person choosing a code name, or as he called it, a 'handle,' rather than using their real name. This would, of course, require anyone who became part of the network to learn the handle of any specific person they might want to call. (On the other hand, one could also make an open call to the entire group, without using anyone's handle but their own.)

When the meal was finished, anyone who would be receiving a bubble retired to the den. The first bubble went to Darius; following Cameron's instructions, he cupped his palm, face up, and the ex-Sorreter placed the bubble in his hand. Cameron then laid his own hand over the top of the bubble, and said, "Enchanter Lonewolf. Begin encoding. Authorize new user. State your handle."

Darius said, "D'Artagnan."

"Seal enchantment. Authorization Lonewolf."

"End encoding. Authorization d'Artagnan."

A slight glow emanated from the bubble, indicating that the enchantment was complete. Cameron removed his hand, and when the glow ceased, text scrolled across the top of the bubble: NEW USER D'ARTAGNAN ACCEPTED.

"So," said Darius, as he slipped the bubble into a pocket, "Lonewolf, huh?"

"Yeah, I considered various names. I was very close to going with 'Hamelin,' after the Pied Piper story from Earth... but then I thought, if an enemy learned that handle, they might connect it to me, if they knew the story. My last name being 'Piper,' and all."

"But don't you think if they heard the name 'Lonewolf,' they might think it was my bubble? My last name being 'Lonewander,' and all?"

"The thought occurred to me," said Cameron with a grin, "but I'm willing to take that risk. Actually, I think it would be better if they were looking for you and found me, rather than the other way around. I mean, if they thought it was you... they might not be prepared for a Sorreter such as myself."

"Gee, thanks. It's nice to know you have so much confidence in my ability to defend myself."

"I'm just sayin', if they thought it was me, they'd probably send a Sorreter-"

"And I couldn't possibly hold my own against your kind. I'll have you know-"

"Come on, I didn't mean any offense. Anyway, I really chose the name because I've always seen myself as a lone wolf. Besides, it's not like learning anyone's handle is going to give the enemy a chance to find any of us, anyway."

At this point Emma asked, "So, Darius, why'd you call yourself d'Artagnan?"

Oh, my friends Rob, Chris, and Dave used to play this RPG they made up based on a series of pulp novels called 'Laser Activated Rapier Patrol,' that was popular when we were kids. It was about an organization of space knights. They all made up characters for themselves, who were supposed to be members of this organization. The names they chose for themselves were Porthos, Athos, and Aramis, named after characters in an old Terran book. I don't even know if any of them had actually read it, but they knew the names from somewhere. I've never read the book, either, but I'd also heard of it. And when I joined in on their RPG and started reading the pulp novels, I made up a character for myself who I named after another character I'd heard of, from the same book: d'Artagnan. I really should read that book someday. I still don't know much of anything about the character I named myself after...."

Tom spoke up, then. "Laser Patrol, eh? Or whatever you said... I've never heard of it, but it makes me think of the Laser Plot of 904."

Darius's expression grew more somber than usual. "Yeah... after that happened, we all decided it would be best to stop playing the RPG. It's kind of silly, just because the books contained the word 'laser,' which really shouldn't matter. But after the tragedy, the novel series was ended, too. I suppose it makes sense that no one would be comfortable with even an oblique reminder of such a thing."

"I'm surprised, then, that you'd choose it for your handle, now."

"Well, I'm trying to remember the good times, and not let some totally unrelated historical event steal that from me. Anyway, what handle are you going to choose?"

"I dunno. Maybe 'Jack,' as in 'Jack-of-all-trades.'"

"You don't think our enemies might figure that out?"

"Like Cameron said, it's not like it would really matter if they did. But I could go with something else, if it makes you feel any better. How about 'Jim'?"

"Why Jim?"

Tom shrugged. "Starts with a 'J,' like 'Jack.' Has three letters, like 'Tom.' Or is that still too obvious for you?"

Darius yawned. "Sorry. Getting tired. Um... no, I don't care. If it doesn't matter, then use whatever name you like."

And so, Cameron repeated the encoding procedure with Tom, then Adam, Emma, Ginger, Tino, Alecstar, and Tiejo.

"Well," said Adam, "now that business has been taken care of, time for some pleasure. I have something to share with anyone who wants some, myself..."

As soon as he'd spoken these words, a servant rolled in a barrel, which he then tapped. Adam, meanwhile, went over to a cabinet which was standing against one wall of the den, opened it, and procured a stein for himself. He indicated that anyone who was interested should do likewise.

Darius quickly accepted the offer, as did everyone except Tiejo. They lined up to fill their mugs.

"Is this yours?" asked Darius.

"Yup," said his father. "I know you always wanted to try some of my brew, though you were too young the last time I saw you."

"You make your own beer?" asked Tom.

"Sure do. Learned from a master in my home village when I was a couple years younger than Darius is now. Though I've devised some of my own recipes, since then."

Tom licked his lips as he filled is mug. "This should be good. It's been too long since I've had a real drink. Not since we were in Plist. Well, ganbei!"

As Tom knocked back his drink, Darius said, "Hey, that kinda sounds like something they say in Oni stories when drinking."

"Like I'm sure I've said, I don't do much reading, so I wouldn't know about that. But one thing I do know about is toasts." To Adam he said, "Damn fine stuff. Do I detect a hint of zelfruit?"

"Yup. This is my Summer ale; I make a different variety of beer for every season. This one is brewed from wheat rather than barley, and it includes zelfruit, sou'cit zest, and a mystery spice. The recipe actually calls for melegueta, which is kind of funny... because it grows mainly around my home village of Ship, but I never thought to include it in beer until I moved to Triscot. I was inspired by the fact that Laina includes it in her steak sauce. Or, you know, she used to. These days, it's hard for us to come by, except on rare occasions, so we've both substituted cardamom in our respective recipes. The difference is subtle, though I'm sure we'd both prefer to make things the way we originally intended."

"Well," said Darius, "then that's just one more reason I should work on fixing it so you can all get outta here." He finished off his own mug, and went back to the cask to refill it. "But I'll tell you, as good as this stuff is, there's something that's always kind of bugged me, in the years since I started drinking...."

"What's that?" asked Adam. "And by the way, Son, how many years ago was it?"

"Hmmm? Oh, I think I was about fifteen when I had my first drink, at the Boar & Bear. Yes, now that I think of it, it was my fifteenth birthday. Lor bought me a drink." He grinned. "Then George bought me one. Then I bought one for myself..." He shook his head, "But anyway, it was some years after that before I noticed this thing I was talking about. Which is, that it bugs me how it seems like seasonal beers- I'm sure you know you're not the only brewer who makes such things- tend to come out at least a month before the season they're for actually begins, and are often gone at least a month before their season is over. Someday, when I start my own country, I should make a law against that."

Adam grinned. "Oh, come on, Son... it's more chaotic this way. Surely you can appreciate that."

Darius rolled his eyes. "I really need to rethink the name of this group. I'm starting to see the possibilities for jokes are gonna be endless."

As Star finished off his own first mug, he said, "Anyway, seasons are pretty much meaningless, around here. To really appreciate them, you have to spend at least a year in the Northern Alliance."

"Well, I don't know about a year, but hopefully we'll get there before Spring's over, and maybe they'll have some Spring ale we can try."

"You better not spend a year there," said Adam. "You're going to have to come back here and try my other seasonal varieties. There's pumpkin spice ale in Autumn; in Winter I make a lager with swe'cit zest, cinnamon, and ginger; and in Spring there's honey lager."

"Gosh, Dad, I was planning on coming back anyway. You don't have to bribe me with alcohol. ...Not that I'm complaining, mind you."

By now, everyone had found a place to sit and nurse their ale. The conversation wore on, and after awhile, Darius got up and poured himself a third mug. He took a sip, then suddenly said to Cameron, "You know, the word 'Sorreter' is such a ridiculous pun..."

Before Cameron could reply, Emma said, "I know, right? My people definitely have the right idea."

Cameron countered with, "But elven magicians only chose to call themselves sorcerers to distinguish themselves from humans, out of resentment for being banished. If we'd called ourselves sorcerers all along, who knows what they would've called themselves?"

"Good point," said Darius. "And how would that have affected merfolk magicians choosing to call themselves witches and warlocks?"

"I don't think that would have mattered," said Cameron. "After all, it's not like they were following the elves' example of rejecting the term 'Sorreters,' since there's no way humans or merfolk could have known, prior to the Coming, that elves were using the term 'sorcerers.'"

"Oh yeah. Some reason I's not thinking so clear. You know, just at the moment."

Cameron chuckled. "Right. Anyway, it was all pretty random, with the merfolk..."

"Speaking of merfolk terminology," said Tiejo, "wondering I was... if rats they are having among them? Is anyone here knowing? And what they woulding to be called? Mer rats, maybe?"

"Good quetshun," said Darius, intentionally exaggerating his drunkenness. "And you know, th'other day I was wishing you woulds of been with us when we metted some mermaids. Is a shame, on account of maybe you could have axed them your quetshun yourself. Uh, I mean, yourslef. Wait... no, I was right the first time."

"Hmmm. But then, was not being until later in the day when question did occur to Tiejo. Already returned from Shanty had we, so making no difference it would have, if been with you earlier I had."

"Oh. Okay." He took another swig. "W'ever."

Tiejo stared at Darius for about ten seconds, then glanced around the room at everyone else. Everyone was grinning. Finally, Tiejo said, "You know... thinking I am that never drinking I have been. Cannot to be remembering for surelike, but thinking now that... try it I would like." With that, he got up and went to the cabinet, got himself a mug, crossed over to the cask and filled it.

"Oh, I am really looking forward to this," said Tom with a widening grin.

Tiejo turned back to look at his friends, his gaze finally settling on Tom. He asked more than said, "Ganbei?" and took his first drink.

As he did so, Darius exclaimed "Kanpai!" and took another swig of his own ale.

The night did not end for some time. Nor would anyone present at the time later have any idea of what time it did end....


chapter 37

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