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chapter 15, scene 3 (original)

Darius and Cameron sat up front for the ride back into town. They stopped in the plaza where they'd picked up Ian Goner, and let him off. The others piled out of the wagon, as well. "You let me know if you want any more of that stuff," the dealer said to Darius.

"We'll see," he said. Goner headed off on whatever business he might have. Darius turned to Cameron and said, "Why don't you take the wagon and find an inn for the night? I've got something I want to do right now."

"Okay. Where will we find you later?"

"If you don't run into me somewhere else first, there's a pub I told Alecstar about, called the Meandering Gander. I'll be there by Third Four, I expect. I want to wander around town for a while, first, though."

"I'm sure we'll all be doing some of that." Calling in a louder voice to those standing around stretching their legs, Cameron asked, "Okay, who wants to go with me to find an inn, and who wants to just wander around?"

Mostly they started climbing back into the wagon, figuring it'd make the most sense to check in first, and do their sight-seeing second. But after he'd climbed out of the cockpit, Darius stopped Marian as she was about to return to the wagon. He thought for just a moment about touching her arm as he came up behind her, but of course he could never make himself touch a person, if it wasn't absolutely necessary. Instead he just said, "Um, excuse me. I'd like to talk to you alone about something." When she turned to face him, he barely managed to force himself to hold her gaze as he asked, "Can you spare me a little while? We can meet the others at the pub later."

"What's this about?" she asked.

"I... I need to do some thinking about the directions the Chaos is going to have to take. I want to talk to you about what part, if any, you might want to play in it."

She seemed reluctant for just a few moments, but then said, "Well, I guess so."

"Cool!" said John with a grin, coming around the corner of the wagon. "But where she goes, I go."

Darius looked at him, and gave him a little smile. "Bodyguard, eh? I can respect that."

"Man, she don't need no stinkin' bodyguard. She can take care of herself," he said, still grinning.

His own grin widening, Darius said, "Maybe I was assuming that you didn't dare be away from your bodyguard, eh?"

The three of them walked down toward a little beach where few tourists or locals came. It was nice and quiet, except for the surf, the seals, and the occasional gulls. It was a place where Darius often liked to come and sit alone and think, when he was in the area.

Standing in front of the bay, Darius said, "I'd like to talk to Marian alone, if the two of you have no objections. Of course if it pleases you, you should stay well within sight and shouting distance." John looked to Marian and asked, "What you wanna do?"

She sighed as if exasperated, which was something she tended to do a lot. John was rarely sure if it was for real or in jest, but he knew she did both at different times. Now, she shrugged and said, "Well, I might as well listen to him. Go ahead, go play with a seal, or something."

With his trademark grin, he just said, "Okay..." and walked farther down the shore, just far enough to be out of hearing of normal voices.

Darius turned away from the water, walked back to the rocks they'd climbed down from the pedestrian path, and sat down against a large outcrop of stone. Marian followed suit. "So what's this about?" she asked.

"You two seem like a pretty good team. Do you have much success at what you do?"

"We get by. Like I said, thieving's not all we do, either."

Darius looked by turns out across the water, and down at his hands, which he fidgeted with a bit as they rested on his knees. For the most part, he avoided looking at Marian. "You seem sort of like the leader in the partnership."

"I suppose I make more decisions than he does, but we're equal partners. Why?"

"I don't know. I guess you just seem sort of... serious, professional. I mean, I don't know you very well, but I'd like to get to know you, and John, and all of us, better. After all, I haven't known anyone in this group very long. But you remind me of myself, in some ways, from what little I've seen. I always thought I was the most disaffected person I know. There's so much I don't like about the world, I can hardly begin to put it into words. There are also lots of things I like. The right people, who I can be friends with. And art, like literature or music or plays. But mostly it's all so confusing and annoying and frustrating...

"You seem like you might share more of my annoyance and frustration than anyone else I know. I mean, I know gruff, curmudgeonly types like Tom, and Cameron can be rather cynical, but... it's not the same, somehow. They seem more generally frustrated, whereas... I dunno. I'm generally frustrated with life, but I feel like it's sort of about an accumulation of specific frustrations. And I sense you might have some of the same frustrations. But aside from that, you seem less confused than I usually feel. I know what I know, and I try to mainly stick to that. You will have heard that I usually work alone; after all, my name is 'Lonewander.' They say the Band work alone, too, but they work alone together, y'know? And you work with John. Me, I just don't fit well with other people. I don't really even feel entirely comfortable with even my oldest friends, or... or anyone." He'd been about to add 'or even my family,' but suddenly felt it wasn't necessary to bring that up just now. It could lead down a whole other path, and he didn't want to get sidetracked. "I... I just always feel like an outsider, no matter who I'm with or how well I know them. For lots of reasons... and at the same time, for no reason at all, if you know what I mean.

"Alot of that is just because I seem to see things differently, and I can't quite figure out how other people see things, or why they do, or how they can. Don't ask me what things; I think I have more differences from other people than I do similarities, lots more. So... I don't really see myself as competent to live in this world. There are things I can do, and then there are things I just avoid. Adventuring, wandering... it's easier than putting down roots and dealing with all the regular stuff. I don't think I could get a normal job if I tried. Not that I couldn't do some job if I got one, I just don't think I could get it. And all the little necessities of life, alot of them wouldn't even occur to me, nor would I know what to do about them, if they did. I'd just mess everything up.

"Maybe that has something to do with my wanting to change the world, to make it more like it was when I was a kid. We're in a funny kind of generation. Most people grow up and the whole world suddenly gets to looking alot different than it did when they were kids, just because they've changed. But they get used to it, it's a normal part of becoming an adult. Not that I think I'll ever be quite capable of truly seeing myself as an adult... but that's a separate issue. What I meant to say was, for those of us in this generation, the whole world really is a lot different than when we were kids. More complex. I want a simple world, with the simplicities of the old ways, as well as the simplicities of the new ways, but not so many of the complexities and difficulties peculiar to each, the old world and the new. But mostly I just want to be left alone. To see friends when I feel like it, but mostly to be alone.

"On the other hand, you seem like you could do everything. You seem to realize just how much injustice there is, and you can be annoyed, and you can fight back. But if you had to, and if the world were a better place, I believe you could do everything just perfectly, meet all the challenges of this new, modern life. I don't know why I feel that way; I've only known you a few hours- but I do. It's just a feeling I have. So I want your help."

"To do what? Make all your decisions for you? Tell you how to live your life? Be constantly explaining the world to you? I don't want to be your mother." She remembered then that he'd said most of his clan had been killed, and that probably included his mother. She felt a moment of awkwardness, and regretted the circumstances; but she meant what she'd said.

Darius didn't seem bothered by that aspect of it, but he did seem bothered. He furrowed his brow and frowned as he replied, "I don't want you to be my mother. I don't want you to do any of those things, you misunderstand me. Hell, I don't even know what I mean, exactly. Maybe I'm asking you to be... an advisor, or something. Maybe I just think you'd be a valuable addition to the Chaos. I'm sorry, I don't know..." He shut his eyes tight, and buried his head in his arms, atop his knees.

"Is all this coming from the conversation with capo Primus, earlier?"

Without looking up, Darius said, "I dunno, maybe. Sort of. But this is... this is stuff I've felt about myself as long as I can remember. Maybe it's getting worse now because, like... I'm sort of... well, I'm the one whose idea this whole Chaos thing was, which makes it natural for people to expect me to be the leader, and have at least a general idea of what it's all about. But I don't think I should be a leader." Looking up, now, he continued, "In the heat of battle, I wouldn't have some emotional breakdown, I'd have a clear goal- survive, and help my comrades to do likewise. But between battles... probably most of the time I'd be alright, but there would be times I would have breakdowns, and be completely useless. And even when I'm feeling alright, I may have very little idea what I or anyone else should actually be doing, you know? I say I don't want a plan because I don't want to be like the Order, but... maybe it's just as much because I'm not capable of formulating plans, either in the short or long term. I'm more the type to let life carry me along, than to actually chart my own course, let alone the courses of anyone else. Hell, more often than not I get depressed because I can't choose what to order off a bloody menu! And I'm seriously trying to organize a rebellion?"

Marian sighed, and ran her hand back through her hair. "Look... nobody can do something like that alone. Good leaders delegate. Maybe John and I will join you people, at least for a little while. But whatever you're asking of me, I think you could just as well ask of any of the others. They mostly seem to be more serious and capable than you seem to think you yourself are. And I'm sure they'd be more than willing to help make plans, if you'd just let them."

"I know, I know... I guess. I'm just not sure, though. I really am sorry, I wish I knew what was going on in my head. I don't want to drag you into it, nor any of the others. But it's too late for that." He sighed, then grinned wanly for a moment. "You know, this all started with Tom. I'd been thinking about this rebellion for years- though of course I never bothered thinking in any detail- it was always in the back of my head. I just wanted a name for the damn thing, and Tom unwittingly provided one." Under his breath, he said, "I still can't believe 'The Chaos' never occurred to me. Idiot.'" Aloud, he continued, "But the important thing is, I never would have been the first to speak. I would have sat at the bar, thinking my own thoughts, drinking my drink, then gone to bed, and gone on with my pointless, solitary little existence. But Tom spoke up, started a conversation. And later, he introduced me to the Band. Oh, and before that, I don't think Tiejo would have joined us, providing an initial quest for the Chaos, if he hadn't overheard me talking with Tom. I had no damned idea, that night I wandered into the Boar & Bear, that my silly old idea was actually going to get started, then and there. When it did, I just got all swept up in it, excited that it was finally becoming a reality. So I didn't even stop to think of the trouble I'd be causing for anyone else. It just doesn't seem fair... to ask any more of them than I already have." He felt himself falling deeply into a fit of depression, as he added, "And yet, here I am, asking it of you, who I've just met. I'm sorry. You... you and John should probably just get out while you can, before you've really joined us." Fighting back tears, he reached into his pocket and pulled out the bag Goner had given him. He opened it, withdrew a pill, and put the bag back in his pocket.

"You're really going to try that, are you?" Marian asked skeptically.

He let out a little sound part way between a sigh and a sob. "If I... don't accomplish this ludicrous goal I've set for myself, my ever having been born will have been entirely pointless. I don't want that. But I know I can't do anything when I'm in this state. If these pills can clear my head, allow me to ignore all I can't stand about myself, then maybe I'll have a prayer of succeeding." He gave a more definite sigh. "But aside from that, even if I decided I don't give a shite about rebellion, there'd still be all this wretched pain, caused by both everything and nothing. If this keeps up..." He didn't finish the thought, but instead popped the pill into his mouth, let his saliva build up, and then swallowed.

"What? Are you saying you might kill yourself?"

"Sometimes I feel it isn't a question of 'if,' but 'when.'"

"Well, that'd be pretty stupid."

"Oh, it just makes so much sense to live for God only knows how many decades filled with unending pain, hopelessness, frustration...."

"You should see a psychotherapist."

"I tried that when I was younger. He made me want to kill myself more than I ever did before I saw him. And after I stopped seeing him, I felt better, for a while."

"Maybe you just got the wrong one for you. Maybe you should try someone else."

"I don't know. Anyway, I don't see how it would help. My problems will always be there. I can't just stop thinking about them, or stop caring about them. Besides which, a large part of my problem is simply chemical. Even the guy I saw said I should be taking something, but that nothing was available yet. He said there should probably be spirit-talker apothecaries, who might learn from discoveries about treating chemical imbalances on other worlds. Maybe this could be the kind of thing he was talking about."

"Well, I don't know what to tell you. I happen to think Tom's right about that stuff. Ultimately, it's bound to do more harm than good."

"Well, we'll see. Anyway, a few doses aren't likely to hurt. Meanwhile, I'm starting to feel better." He stood up and grinned. "The ocean's pretty damned beautiful, don't you think?" he asked, spreading his arms wide and walking toward the water. "It feels good walking on this sand; I bet it'd be better with my shoes off." He took off his shoes and socks, and walked back to look down at Marian.

"Look," he said with a smile on his face, "I can see where you wouldn't enjoy listening to me talk like I was. I'm sorry. I'm not always like that, you know. I get down on myself too much. You know, I think I have some pretty good qualities, too. I mean, I could get on in society! Sure, why not? Maybe it all doesn't come natural to me, but I do get by. How much more is there, really, than what I already do? My memory may not be so great, but one can hardly forget to pay one's bills, can one? They never give you a chance, they just keep reminding you. I may not know how to ride a strider, and I rarely even drive a wagon. Mostly I walk or fly a carpet or something. But I have a bank account which I keep perfectly balanced. I can cook my own meals, and so forth. Life is easy!"

He climbed up onto the rock he'd been sitting against, stood out on the very edge of it, looking out across the bay, and laughed. Then he inhaled deeply and said, "The beach smells so... interesting!" He jumped as far as he could, and landed on the beach a few feet past Marian. He spread his arms again, and started spinning.

At that point, John came running up to them. "What's up, guys?" he asked.

"Darius is going insane," said Marian.

"Really? Cool! This should be fun to watch." He sat down next to her, where Darius had been.

Darius fell to the ground, the world spinning around him. "I'm just happy!" he shouted.

"He means he took one of those Happiness pills." Raising her voice, she called out, "That's fake happiness, Darius."

"Yes, but fake happiness is so much better than real depression!" he replied. When the world's movement had slowed nearly to its normal pace, he sat up and looked at the bandits. "Listen, I've been a fool. Do you know what? I like you both, alot. I want to get to know you better. I want to spend time with you. I see everything so much more clearly, now. My head is usually so heavy, so mired in a jumble of incomprehensible thoughts. I'll have some vague idea what I'm thinking, perhaps, but not really. Sometimes I can concentrate on immediate problems, and my head clears a bit. But left to my own devices, with no particular plans or objectives, nothing makes sense. I don't know myself, and most of what I think I know, I don't like. But more than that, I don't like the world. I just don't know what to do about it. Perhaps more importantly, I either don't know what to say, or when I do know what to say, there's something in my head that prevents me from saying it, no matter how hard I might try. Even if I know there's no reason not to. ...Hell, I can hardly believe that in my previous state, I was capable of even asking to talk with you, when I barely know you. I'm proud of myself for having done that! It shows there's hope for me yet! Even without these pills maybe!

"But with them! Oh, now I see it all so clearly, what a fool I've been! Now I can talk without any impediments at all! Now everything changes! My good, dear friends, I may not have a plan, but I have a feeling!"

"So whatcha feelin', Darry?" asked John with his usual goofy, boyish grin.

Darius jumped to his feet, looked heavenward, and pointed an index finger high in the air. "I'm a-feelin' we're gonna amount to something! We may not utterly defeat the Order, and maybe we shouldn't. But as God and you two are my witnesses, we're gonna give them one hell of a run for their money! C'mon, you guys, let's get going!" He climbed up the rocky bank back onto the path into town.

Marian sighed, picked up Darius' shoes and socks, thinking He might need a mother more when he's happy and confident than when he's confused and depressed. As she and John climbed up after him, she asked, "Where are we going now?"

"Wherever we want! I've gotta stop shouting!" he shouted. And then in a more normal voice, "Okay, this will do." But he was still grinning, slightly. "Well, we're supposed to meet the others later, unless we bump into them first. Let's just wander around for a while and have some fun. We can talk about things. We could find somewhere where people are playing music or putting on a play. We could go shopping. Maybe I should go to the bank, first. ...Oh, thanks," he said, noticing his footwear in Marian's hands. He took it, sat down on the path, put his socks and shoes back on, then jumped back to his feet. Swinging his arms behind his back, he clasped his right wrist with his left hand, and stood there grinning at Marian and John.

"Whatever," said Marian. "I don't approve of the stimulus, but at least it's nice to see you more cheerful, confident, and generally positive. I guess. Just try not to get carried away by your happiness, and focus on what you're doing, okay?"

"Okay," he said with a nod. "It's nice to feel this way, though. I really believe things will improve for all of us, and then I won't need the pills to feel this way. Of course, that could just be the pills talking, but it's not something that would really be to their benefit to say, is it?"

Marian just rolled her eyes, and the three of them started walking.