Darius landed the carpet, then led the way into the building. He walked up to the front desk and asked to see the Chief of Police.
"May I ask what this is regarding?" asked the receptionist. "Chief Arresting is a busy man, so unless you have an appointment or an emergency..."
Stavros stepped forward. "I am Colonel Stavros Supprus, commander of the Kimrin regiment of the Army. I assure you, he'll want to see us. Our business is urgent."
The receptionist paused briefly before saying, "I'll see if he's available." He opened a t-mail connection and said, "Chief, there are three gentlemen asking to see you. One of them says he's a colonel."
"Very well, show them in," came the reply.
"Yes, sir." He closed the connection, sighed, and stood up. "Follow me."
Chief Arresting welcomed them, and asked them to sit, while the receptionist closed the door behind them and returned to his desk. "So, what's this about?"
"First of all, thank you for agreeing to see us without an appointment. My name is Colonel Stavros Supprus. I'd appreciate it if you would contact Commissioner Gothic, but I understand that I'll have to explain myself to you, first. What I have to say will be hard to believe, but I ask you to keep an open mind."
"Always. But perhaps you'd care to introduce your companions."
Darius spoke up. "I am Darius Lonewander. No doubt you're aware that several of my friends and I have been imprisoned in Near Port for the last few months."
Arresting leaned forward in his seat. "I thought you looked familiar. Couldn't quite place the face, though. Hadn't heard anything about your being released."
Stavros cleared his throat. "That's the thing. Well, one of the things. I helped them escape."
"And why would you do a thing like that, Colonel?"
"Because they were being held illegally."
"That was certainly an issue when they were first taken into custody, but-"
"The Counter-insurgency Act changed that, retroactively. But the fact is, they never received a trial. Woodman claimed they did, but it was a lie. What's more, they were starved, and one of them was tortured."
"You do look a bit gaunt," Arresting said to Darius. He asked Stavros, "But do you have proof of this?"
"I have been investigating certain illegal activities conducted by the Army for some time now, and have a number of informants within not only my own regiment, but those of Near Port and Port, as well. The matter of how the prisoners were treated was... tangential, for the most part. But I'm afraid I can't prove anything, particularly since the one who was tortured- a Sorreter- used magic to heal himself after the escape. As for whether they received a trial-"
"I think I can speak to that," said Vallus. "I don't know if you've seen me before, or any pictures of me. But I was somewhat well known, in the last couple years before the war. And, well, during the war, as well. I was imprisoned by Woodman at the end of the war, and I can assure you, I received no trial, so it's reasonable to assume Woodman's other prisoners of war didn't get one, either."
"There are no prisoners of war," said Arresting. "The Declaration of Amnesty was the first law Demos wrote when he became king."
"Yeah, I heard about that. Woodman found it amusing."
"You haven't mentioned your name yet. If you're so famous, who are you?"
"Vallus of Kimrin."
Arresting had leaned back in his chair, but now he sat bolt upright. "Vallus?" He stood up, walked around his desk, and looked him right in the eyes. "Huh. I saw Vallus speak once. Never saw him close up, besides which it was about ten years ago. Not like I'd remember his face clearly, anyway. But I guess there may be a resemblance."
"I'm sure there are plenty of old friends of mine, beneficiaries of the Declaration, who could attest to my identity."
"We'll have to look into that." The chief sat on the corner of his desk. "Meanwhile, Colonel, you said the prisoner issues were tangential. What was the main focus of your investigations?"
"It's impossible to say exactly how many laws have been broken by... well, a group calling themselves 'The Cabal.' But one of which I do have proof is the construction of aircraft using alien science given them by spirits, in defiance of the Prohibition of Off-world Technology."
"And just where is this proof?"
"Two ships crashed several miles north of Triscot. If you would, I'd like you to send people out to recover the debris. Although this is technically a matter for InterVil, which is why I'd like you to contact Gothic."
Arresting nodded. "Yes, I think I'd better."
He went to sit behind his desk again, and called the Commissioner, who immediately had a Sorreter translocate him to Arresting's office.
Gothic looked at Vallus and said, "You look vaguely familiar."
"He claims to be Vallus of Kimrin," said Arresting.
Gothic turned to the chief and said, "Vallus died in the war."
Vallus said, "The reports of my death-"
"Never mind. I'll get back to that." Gothic turned to Darius. "Mr. Lonewander, your face I definitely recognize. Shouldn't you be in jail?"
"Jail would've been nice. My friends and I were actually kept in a dungeon. So was Vallus, though I didn't know that until after we were rescued by Colonel Supprus. We were severely malnourished, though the colonel gave us some kind of energy bars, and food. It'll be a while yet before we're fully recovered, but I'm feeling much better now than I was for the last few months. Though one of my friends was apparently well-fed... but tortured. I'm not sure if there's a specific law against that, but there should be. And there's got to be a law against holding us without trial."
"Have you any proof that there was no trial?"
"Not the kind of thing that's easy to prove, I'm afraid. But after you confirm Vallus's identity, I think that will demonstrate precedent. Meanwhile, I've come to turn myself in, to stand trial. Public trial. If found guilty, I'll accept my punishment... as long as it's done legally. And not by Woodman. I'd sooner die than go back into his custody. Of course, I could have simply gone into hiding, but I prefer to at least try to clear my name."
"And how do you intend to do that, exactly?"
Darius took a deep breath. "By admitting my guilt."
Everyone in the room stared at him incredulously. "Come again?" said Gothic.
"The fact is, I'd been thinking about starting a rebellion for many years. I wasn't really sure if it would ever become anything more than a fantasy, but this past Spring... it suddenly began to look like it might. I met some people, and we talked about it. Yes, we were planning a rebellion, but only vaguely. Even if it did happen, I didn't expect it to go beyond the talking stage for probably a few years, at least. The fact that we were seriously considering this was what led us to run away from Agent Monogwrangle, when he wanted to bring us in for questioning. Oh, by the way... I don't know if my word will mean anything to you, but Dex Bigthink had no idea what we were planning. He merely objected to the agent's attempt to overstep his authority."
"Yes, and the agent has been reprimanded for that. Go on."
"Well, the thing is... we did a lot of talking, and frequently questioned whether we were right to want to rebel. There's much we appreciate about the state of the world, since the Coming. And we assume the majority of those in power are perfectly decent people, who would have every right to try to stop us... to consider us criminals. But we all had reason to feel that... well, in the first place, we knew some of the methods employed by the Order during the Coming had been wrong, but moreover, we felt that in spite of the good that was achieved by the Coming, there was something not right, below the surface of society. Something that for the most part, we couldn't put our fingers on. And since meeting Colonel Supprus and learning about his investigations into the Cabal, it seems we weren't just being paranoid. I suppose we could have said that when Woodman illegally arrested us, and then never gave us a trial... but he could have been a rogue. But the point I was getting to is... before we were arrested, we had decided that we would simply try to get a proposition on the ballot, for secession. There are no laws against asking people to vote. But we hadn't even done that, yet. All we ever did was talk, and there's no law against talking. Not even talking about criminal acts. If we had actually gone through with the rebellion, I would feel we deserved prison- if we lost. The fact is, we only ever had the best interests of the world at heart, but that's... a matter of opinion. I'm quite willing to stand trial for talking about rebellion, and I'd understand if a jury believed such talk was unacceptably dangerous. But whatever this damned law Woodman invented may say, I don't believe we can be considered insurgents. Not until we actually do something. So at worst we're civil criminals, and probably not even that."
Commissioner Gothic paced in silence for a few centhours, mulling the situation over. Finally he said, "Very well. I'll go back to First Village and discuss the matter with Chief Magistrate Justicar. And I'm authorizing Chief Arresting to send a team to recover the wreckage he mentioned in his call. If it exists. Meanwhile, I'm remanding you to the Triscot police, until we've decided what to do with you." He turned to Vallus and said, "Whether or not you are who you claim, there are obviously no records of your arrest, so you're free to go. But I suggest you not leave town, until you're told otherwise." He turned to Stavros. "As for you, Colonel... you should probably be arrested for desertion, as well as aiding in the escape of prisoners."
Darius grinned and said, "Actually, speaking of the Counter-insurgency law, the colonel's alleged crimes sound like a matter for the military to handle, not the police."
Gothic smirked and said, "An excellent point. I'll have to relay that to Marshal Primus. Colonel, you may go. But don't leave town. That is not a suggestion, it's an order."
"Sir," said Stavros, "I have a platoon not far outside of town. Every one of them is willing to submit to whatever actions are deemed appropriate, just as I am. But I humbly request that I be allowed to rejoin them, while we await your decision. I swear to you, we will take no further action, and we will not leave the immediate vicinity of Triscot."
Gothic nodded. "Very well." Turning to Arresting, he said, "Good day, Chief." Without another word, he moved to his Sorreter's side, and they translocated away.
"Okay," said Arresting, "you two, out. And you," he said to Darius, "come with me."
The four of them left the room, and the Chief escorted Darius to a cell which was much more comfortable than the one to which he'd recently grown accustomed.
Benj Illustri had returned to kneeling by his brother's side, after the street rats had departed. No tears fell this time, but his eyes grew moist. For a few centhours, his mind felt simultaneously empty and full to bursting. Finally, he stood up, and began walking home. He knew he should call the police to alert them to the deaths, though he'd need to find a public t-mail booth, in order to make his call anonymously. However, he felt that he should deliver the news of Macen's death personally to his parents, and feared that if he called the police first, they'd be the ones to break the news. And so he decided to just let someone else stumble upon the bodies, which he hoped wouldn't happen until after he'd arrived home.
However, he hadn't gone far when a tall, darkly-dressed man appeared out of thin air, directly in front of him. Had this sudden appearance occurred in the dark, Benj would have taken a defensive stance; but as they were both standing within a circle of light cast by a nearby street lamp, he merely stopped in his tracks, and took a close look at the man's face. "Noson?" he said. "What-?"
"Benj, sorry to drop in like this, but... I have a friend who needs to talk with you. He wanted me to bring you to him. Now."
"But..." he sighed. "Look, Macen is dead. So is your friend Zeke. I need to get home-"
"Damn. Oh, bloody hell, Benj... I... damn." Noson Turner allowed himself a sigh of his own. "Listen, this sucks royally, and maybe later you and I can get drunk together and talk about it. Or not. But... this may explain the timing upon which my... friend insisted. I don't know exactly how much he knows or exactly what he wants to say to you, but I assure you, it is important. I don't think it will take long, and if you want, I can translocate you directly home afteward. You may even get there sooner if you come with me now, than if you just keep walking."
Benj paused to consider this. Noson had never been a friend of his; in fact he disliked him only slightly less than he had Zeke. But he did know that he genuinely cared about Macen and Zeke, and the news of their deaths must have hit him hard. The fact that he was still insistent upon carrying out the errand his mysterious friend had sent him on demonstrated that it must, as he'd said, be important. And so, he reluctantly agreed.
He clasped Noson's shoulder, and they disappeared. A moment later, they reappeared in a room with no windows or doors, but ample lighting. Benj glanced around, but saw nothing other than that which had been staring him directly in the face the instant he and Noson had appeared here: a large tank filled with water. And floating in that tank was a merman.
Benj withdrew his hand and stepped toward the tank. "Congressman Ericson. What can I do for you? And whatever it is, can I do it quickly? I expect you know this already, but my brother has just been killed, and I must inform my parents."
"Macen's dead?" asked the merman. "No, I hadn't known. My condolences. But I can't say it surprises me. In fact, I probably should have guessed this would happen."
"You are of course aware of what your brother did for a living; not only his work for the military as a spy, perhaps, but also the fact that he belonged to a secret cabal."
"I suspected... there was more to it than just the Army, but I can't say I knew for sure that any such thing as a cabal existed. I take it you're a member, as well?"
"Yes. And all senior members were immediately notified of the escape of the Chaos from Colonel Woodman's dungeon."
"He's a petty man with a cruel streak, but he's useful, so we allow him his little pleasures. Besides, there seems little point in making prisoners comfortable. But that's beside the point. It makes sense that Macen would have gotten involved in trying to recapture the fugitives. And yet, I knew they wouldn't be recaptured. Hence... it's unsurprising that Macen's failure resulted in his death. I am sorry. I didn't know him personally, but he was a good man, from what I've heard."
"By that I imagine you mean he was useful. Like Woodman. But what do you mean you knew the Chaos wouldn't be recaptured?"
"You see, I'm not only a senior member of the Cabal, I am also an associate of the Black Prophets."
Benj asked with some confusion, "That little gang from First Village? What have they got to do with anything?"
"My boy, I wasn't spelling 'prophets' with an 'f,' as the gang does, but a 'ph.'"
"The... but the Black Prophets were wiped out centuries ago!"
"That's what they wanted the world to believe. So when the Prophet Movement was defeated by the establishment of the First Order, they went underground. However, they have continued their work throughout the centuries since then. The point is, they know a thing or two about the future. Including the fact that the Chaos are destined to found a new country, after the impending war. Which they could hardly do if they went back to prison. Excuse me, back to dungeon."
"That's not important, at the moment."
"No, of course not. Why would a war be important?" he said sarcastically. He sighed. "This is all quite preposterous, but assuming, for the sake of argument, that I believed any of it... why are you telling me this?"
"Because, my boy, I want you to join the Cabal, and work for me. Not full time, of course. You should go about your life as usual... or whatever the new 'usual' may soon become, for you... but occasionally, I would call on you to do something for me, or at least provide me with information."
"What sort of information? And what makes you think I'll be in a position to obtain information that's of any use to you? And if you know the future, why would you need anyone? For that matter, why didn't you use your foreknowledge to save my brother's life?"
"None of us knows every detail of the future, we just have pieces of the big picture. As for why I think you'll be in a position to help me... that's not about the Black Prophets. Call it, rather, an educated guess."
"And what makes you think I'd even be interested in joining your cabal? Particularly considering Macen's death came as a direct result of his involvement?"
"I can tell you this: the Black Prophets know the Cabal will soon fall apart. But not long after, it will come back together. And then... well, we don't know yet how long it will last, the second time around. Perhaps not even as long as it did... as it will have done, the first time. But that's not important. You must understand, we in the Black Prophets know things about the Cabal, but the Cabal knows nothing of us. We have a few members in the Cabal, to use it as a tool while it suits our purposes. No doubt if the other Cabalists learned of our existence, they'd try to use the Black Prophets as their tool. And they'd fail. So you have no reason to be interested in the Cabal... except as a stepping stone. If you do well, perhaps some day you'll be invited to join the Black Prophets."
"What if I don't want to join them, either?"
"Absurd. You are smart and ambitious. You can hardly fail to see the advantage in joining us."
"It bears consideration, I'll grant you."
"That's all I'm asking. You needn't give me an answer today. Take a few months, or even a few years. I have a hunch my offer will come to sound more appealing, in the near future."
"Another educated guess?"
"A mix of that, and what I do know through the Black Prophets."
"Meanwhile, I suppose you don't want me speaking of either group to anyone."
"Naturally not. Mind you, it's not like anyone would believe you. About the Cabal... well, that might seem believable to the world, before long, but the BP? That would just make you sound crazy. It'd ruin your budding career, and possibly hurt your father's, as well."
"Fine. I'll think about your offer. I do wonder, though, about the timing. When Noson heard about Macen, he thought that might explain it..."
"The truth is, things are about to get very chaotic, no pun intended, and I wasn't sure when my next chance to get you alone like this might be, or if there'd even be another chance. I've been debating making this offer for awhile, now, and when I heard of the escape... I knew I had to make a decision quickly. So I had Noson divine for you. I'd expected you to be home in bed, quite frankly. If you don't mind my asking, what exactly did happen with Macen?"
"I... followed him, after he got a call from one of his spies. He and Zeke Sanguine and two others accosted a few street rats, and one of them killed him. And... Zeke."
Noson frowned. "Wait, did one rat kill them both? Or was it a different rat?"
"Well," said Ericson, "I assume one of the rats in question was that one from the Chaos."
"Maybe. I wouldn't know."
"I do have a request... don't tell anyone who killed Macen or Zeke. In fact, it's probably best if you don't even mention that you were out this morning. When the news arrives of your brother's death, it should come as a shock to you."
"Please, just trust me. It's in your best interest, as well as the best interest of the future itself. ...Just another educated guess, but if I'm right... it could be vitally important."
"Thank you, dear boy. Now, Noson, you may take him home. Do try not to wake the house."
"Of course, Manat." He placed a hand on Benj's shoulder, and they vanished.
A centhour later, Noson reappeared, alone. Manat said, with genuine tenderness in his voice, "Noson, I know Macen and Zeke were close friends of yours, so I'll understand if you decline my request. But if you're up to it, could you perhaps see to it that their bodies aren't discovered by the authorities?"
"For the same reason you didn't want Benj telling anyone they're dead, I take it."
Noson knew better than to ask what exactly the reason was; he also knew that he'd probably find out someday, whenever the Black Prophets were ready to accept him as a member. There were any number of such things he'd refrained from asking Manat, over the years. For now, he simply said, "You can count on me. Anything special you want me to do with them, or should they just disappear?"
"It would be best not to destroy the bodies, nor put them anywhere unrecoverable. With all due respect, I'm sure you're one of the few people- maybe the only person- who will miss Mr. Sanguine. But the Illustris will certainly be wanting to give Macen a proper burial, when it comes time for them to learn of his death."
"I expect you won't want Xander to know you had anything to do with hiding the body."
"Probably not, but I'm afraid I need time to ponder the situation, and figure out precisely when and how to let him know of his son's death. Now, hurry; someone could stumble upon the bodies at any moment. When you're done, you may go home."
Without another word, Noson once again vanished. A few moments later, Manat translocated to his own home.
After leaving the police station, Stavros had informed Vallus that Darius's friends would be waiting at a diner called Dane's. Vallus said he knew the place, though it had of course been years since he'd been there. Still, he was sure he could find it. So Stavros left to rejoin his platoon, where Alec would be waiting. When Vallus arrived at Dane's, he found that everyone's breakfast was being paid for by Thew, who'd apparently made some money from a few minor adventures he'd had in and around Kimrin, during the months he'd spent waiting for Stavros to decide it was time to rescue the Chaos. Meanwhile, Vallus updated them all on events at the police station. Cameron informed them of a pre-dawn discussion he'd had with Cherilyn Amalgamator, who'd told him she was afraid LandOrder was preoccupied, and couldn't be of any help to the Chaos, for the immediate future.
After breakfast, Vallus accompanied Tom, Tiejo, Ginger, Cameron, Emma, Tino, and Thew to the office of Evan Wayfarer. Adam was shocked, but glad, to see them all. Of course, he was most shocked to see Vallus. He inquired about Darius, and Vallus again explained what had happened with the police. Adam was naturally concerned, but said he believed his son had made a wise choice. He also said he would be happy to provide everyone else with a place to stay, though he suspected the police had been watching him for the last few months, and he wasn't sure how safe it would be for anyone.
Vallus said, "Safety has lost all meaning for me. All I care about is, do you have a bed? Because I haven't slept in one for nine years. Just give me twenty hours or so in an honest-to-God bed... after that the authorities can arrest me or kill me or do what they will with me, and I will be content."
And so, 'Evan' closed his office for the day, and they all went to his estate. There were five bedrooms, all of them nicer than anything in the Lonewanders' underground dwelling. Adam gave Vallus his own room; the others were taken by Tom, Ginger, Cameron, and Emma. Meanwhile, Tiejo, Tino, and Thew followed Adam to a new tunnel entrance he'd had built directly from his manor's basement, feeling it too conspicuous to continue using the tunnel in the barn, if he was indeed being watched. When they arrived at his family's home, Adam and his guests were joined in the den by Sidney and various members of the clan, to discuss recent events and plans for the near future.
Thew had been particularly looking forward to seeing his brother again. He couldn't help grinning as he said, "You'll never guess who I met."
"Who?" asked Joss.
His grin widened as he replied, "God."
Joss's eyes widened and his jaw dropped. "Holy-"
"Not as much as you'd think. He's actually quite casual, for the most part. Anyway, we had a very nice chat. I'm pretty sure it'll end up in the O'Gas, in a year or two."
"Does that mean you're planning on revealing your true identity to the world?" asked Joss. "Wouldn't that lead people to suspect the rest of us are still alive, too?"
Before Thew could reply, Tiejo said, "Not being a problem any longer, I am thinking. Perhaps you all could to be coming out of hiding, soon. This morning I- uh, well... Macen is dead, now. Also his friend, Zeke."
"Ah, Zeke!" exclaimed Sidney. "That's what it was." Turning to Adam, he said, "If they're both dead, it should be safe for you, now. Of course, Xander may still be a problem. I'm sure he has other contacts he could use. On the other hand, you'd be bound to be very much in the public eye, returning from the dead, like that. So I'm sure your turning up dead for real, so soon afterwards, would be far too conspicuous for him to risk. Not without time to plan how to get rid of you, once he finds his original plan has been forestalled. Which perhaps means the more quickly you make a decision, the better."
Alyn turned to look at her husband and, with a squeeze of his arm, asked, "Dear... do you really think we could finally return to our old lives?"
Adam looked at his wife and smiled. "Sounds promising. It's something I suppose the whole clan will have to discuss." Turning back to the room at large, he said, "But now, I'm sure we'd all like to hear the thrilling details of your escape."
Thew began by telling them about meeting Stavros, and the plans that they made over the next few months, leading up to their stealing of the SST that very morning, facing an enemy spirit, and finally arriving in Near Port to rescue everyone. Tiejo told the part about their subsequent rescue by Taryn Hillrat and her allies, and about Cameron later translocating him to Triscot, to meet with street rat allies there, and how this led to the deaths of Macen and Zeke. Tino spoke of Cameron destroying the enemy transport, and of his own subsequent revelation to the group. If anyone was surprised to learn that he was a spirit, they didn't show it.
When their story was complete, Adam said, "And then they came to see me at my office, where Vallus told me about Darius. And about Alec staying with Stavros and his platoon. For now, Vallus and a few others are resting at my home away from home, and I suggest you all do likewise, here. I'm not sure what tomorrow will bring, but for certain you'll need to regain your strength." The escapees all agreed; they relaxed until lunch, napped until supper, and then got quite serious about a good night's sleep.
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