And Now for a Very Special Chapter of "The Lone Argonaut"

Using teleportation, and with Jason as a guide, Talbot came to where Roland's body was, in fact, still lying. The adventurer was brought back to the ship and the "Argo" quickly shoved off, before the Jilothic folks could do anything to stop it.

After lunch that afternoon, by Talbot's request, the Argonauts had a "moment of silence" for the nine Argonauts who had recently died. Jason was reminded strongly of September 11th. It had occurred just three years ago, a week before his eighth birthday. He'd never set foot in New York; he'd only seen the destruction of the World Trade Center on television, and still, it had affected him greatly. He'd always felt sequestered from the violence and insanity of the outside world in the land of fast food and fast cars, and perhaps he really had been, but it was, he thought, important to remember that there were throngs of people who were homicidally angry at Americans and Americanism. It came to show how fanaticism and partisanship could dehumanize those who fell under their sway—that was made further apparent by many Americans' reactions to the attacks. Jason himself was ashamed to recall how he had, at first, cheered on the invasion of Afghanistan with the rest of them. At one point, he'd even thought the slaughter that was now taking place in Iraq was somehow necessary. Of course, if the Piercers weren't dealt with, a pointless conflict that would make the Second World War seem tame by comparison was sure to erupt…

"And let us hope," said Talbot, continuing the speech he'd been making, "that the actual mission will go over far more smoothly than this journey."

<Not a chance.> thought Jason. <Not a snowball's chance in hell.>

Roland was in bad shape. It took him a day to return to his right mind, and another to fully recover. He was happy to be back to normal, though he was greatly annoyed by the theft of his chest of Hoonian gold: the pirates had taken it, along with some of the other valuables on the ship. He did still have his suit, as he'd carried it in the pocket of his guard's uniform. (One of its other miscellaneous abilities was that it could be folded into a tiny bundle.) His glasses were perched on his nose once more, and his mustache was beginning to grow back. Yet the loss still stung.

"Look on the bright side." said Jason. They were talking in their quarters. "Gunther says we'll be at the Dojese seaport by tomorrow morning."

"And then, perhaps, if everything goes swimmingly," said Roland, "we'll be able to return to Gyeeds via dimensional gate, rather than undergoing another odyssey of this magnitude."

Jason nodded. "But Roland," he said, "I think I deserve an explanation of your relationship with Beatrix."

Roland stared at him. "So you recognized her?"

"Well, that was the first time I saw her, but it was easy to figure out who she was, given how you acted towards each other."

Roland nodded. "We've got quite a feud between us." Anger flashed in his eyes.

"Could you elaborate? I mean, start from the beginning. What were those 'rough spots' you spoke of? What caused your marriage to break down? Now that I've seen the two of you together, it's hard to believe you were ever fond of each other."

"Yes, I myself find it difficult to believe, at times." He scrutinized the boy carefully, as if considering whether he should continue. "I suppose you do deserve the truth, Jason; I will, as always, answer your questions.

"Our marriage was, in fact, a mistake from the beginning, because we weren't compatible: we wanted two different things out of the relationship. Although Beatrix loved me and enjoyed spending time with me, there were other things that she cared about more, such as her studies. I, by contrast, was so enamored with her that I cared for little else. The result was that I often wanted to enjoy her when she wanted to do something else."

"As in, you wanted to have sex and she didn't?"

"Yes, sometimes," said Roland unabashedly, "but not just that. I was a romantic, you know? I wanted to have candlelit dinners and moonlit walks; I wanted to enjoy our young love. But while I viewed love as life's entrée, in the American sense of the word, Bea felt it was only a side dish—or that's how our marriage counselor put it. At the time, the analogy seemed to me trite and belittling; since then, I've come to realize it was actually quite appropriate.

"Our relationship was always marked by this tension, and it worsened as time went on. More and more often, Beatrix would go on a screaming rant about how I was constantly trying to dominate her life—she called me a chauvinist and a misogynist. She liked to disappear for days on end with no explanation. I increasingly wondered if she understood what marriage was in the first place. I finally realized she didn't when she truly stabbed me in the back."

Over the course of his story, Roland had gradually grown angrier, his ire increasing with each sentence. Now he was furious. He paused in his speech, seemingly inviting Jason to guess what he'd meant by that last cryptic phrase.

"Did she… move away for good?" said Jason.

Roland laughed one choking laugh at the suggestion. "Oh, I wish. She committed adultery!" For a moment, his whole body crackled with electricity. Startling as it was, the release seemed to calm him down a bit.

Cowed, Jason said quietly "And that was… uh… the straw that broke the camel's back, huh?"


Jason scratched his head. "It's… a little odd that you feel that way about adultery so strongly, considering that you're otherwise a sexual libertarian of sorts. I mean, prostitution isn't much in the spirit of monogamy, you know."

Roland blushed indignantly. "I was faithful to her for the duration of our relationship. Marriage has very little meaning if its participants don't abide by its basic tenants."

Jason shrugged. "Open marriages exist. You can think of marriage as a legal phenomenon, or as anything else, for that matter. It's those crazy Republicans who believe in the 'sanctity of marriage', or whatever."

"They're referring to the matter of gay versus heterosexual marriage. And I am no homophobe, just for the record."

"But who was Beatrix's lover?"

Roland's face fell. "I still don't know. I only knew the affair occurred because I read her email. I put a lot of effort into tracking that man down, and I never found him."

"Man," said Jason, shaking his head, "life imitates soap operas, eh?"

"I suppose so." Roland sighed.

"There's one thing I still don't understand. I see why your marriage deteriorated—I agree with what you said at first; it sounds like you weren't compatible at all—but I don't see why you've continued to detest each other so. That you wouldn't be able to bear the sight of each other is understandstable. That you would hate each other's guts—it just seems totally uncalled for! You seemed displeased, but not surprised, that she endangered you so by pointing you out to the cops. It was clearly out of sheer spite; she knew as well as anybody that we didn't do anything, and Jilothus was just being predatory.

"Nor, come to think of it, do I get why this one failed relationship led you to scorn love entirely. However bitter you may feel, it's hard to believe that that bitterness was enough to destroy the… well, love of love that had characterized you so strongly earlier."

"If that's the case, that you don't understand it," said Roland, "then I think you simply don't know how deeply these things run."

"Maybe, maybe. Do you even have any idea why Beatrix happened to be in Jilothus?"

"None at all. It was simply a cruel twist of fate."

"Hey, story of my life since I turned ten."

"You've had plenty of strokes of good fortune, as well."

"Mostly in the form of help dealing with bad luck. Speaking of which: how did you manage to escape from your cell and steal a guard's uniform?"

"Oh, I just snapped the neck of the fellow who brought me breakfast. There are so many guards there, all of whom pay so little attention to each other, that no one noticed how that guard never came back from my cellblock and I never went in."

"You're disturbingly casual about murder," said Jason, somewhat disturbed himself.

Roland shrugged. "It's unpleasant, but too often, one just doesn't have a choice. Killing is like wearing contact lenses in that way."

"Now that's not a simile you hear every day."

"And so I always carry around the proper tools for each." said Roland, smiling.

There was a long pause. Finally, Jason said "The foremost question is, why did those pirates attack us in the first place, considering our relative lack of valuables?"

"I can answer that one." said Roland. "They most likely wanted to hold us for ransom."

"Ransom? But Gyeeds can crush them!"

"Yes, at a far greater price than the ransom for all of us. Waging war is expensive, especially on the Starving Sea."

"So… wait, Stanley isn't going to attack them?" Roland shook his head. "Won't he do anything?" Roland shook his head. "Can't they be prosecuted in an interdimensional court, or something?"

"Yes, they could be tried in the High Court of the IDC, but the court wouldn't be expected to carry out any kind of sentence. Its time and money are limited, too, and most of the wrongs committed in this case have already been righted."

Jason swore. "There's no justice in this world."

"Look on the bright side. I made sure to avenge all of the dead Argonauts."

Jason frowned. "That's not what I think of as justice."

Now Jason certainly had plenty of things to think about. First, there was Roland. Well, he'd solved one of the Mysteries, in a sense, but he wasn't at all reassured. Why had he and Beatrix gotten together in the first place, if they'd been so incompatible? Shouldn't they have to talked to each other, realized their differences, and gone their separate ways? And why in the world did they hate each other so? However bitter Beatrix had felt towards her ex-husband, trying to land him in jail was cruel and malicious.

One thing about Roland that especially bothered Jason was his apparent vengefulness. He seemed to think his slaughter of the guards was necessary not only because the Argonauts needed to escape, but also because they needed to be avenged. When Beatrix had exposed him, he'd said "You'll pay for this!" All this desire for revenge didn't seem consonant with Roland's surname. Then again, he certainly did care about saving the lives of innocents, and he'd just rescued all of the still-living Argonauts, Jason included, from an uncertain fate. Still, Jason decided to shelve his plan to profess his love for Roland indefinitely, to be considered again only if occasion made his feelings swing in the adventurer's favor.

The second thing was trouble. <I really am a trouble magnet.> Jason decided. Again and again, he, Roland, and Talbot had predicted that some kind of difficulty would arise, no matter what the situation, and they had always been correct. If Jason had been superstitious, he might've thought these predictions were self-fulfilling prophecies: Mr. Trouble always came around when he heard that mournful sound. ("We should try to run away." That meant that Jason Blue was sure to stay.) In truth, it was probably just a matter of sailing on such dangerous seas. And if Akolos had cut off all communication with the rest of the multiverse, it was safe to assume that he wouldn't be quite friendly. After this whole matter was over with, and Jason was back home in Gyeeds, there was no reason to think he'd have any more trouble to deal with.

<Yeah, right!>