Tell No One

"Yeah, Leela might be the only person in the multiverse who could get to the bottom of this. If there's any direction to go in, that must be it."

So spoke Caleb Vespinus, a blue-eyed, lanky, unkempt lad of nineteen, after he'd heard what Jason was willing to tell him about the quest. Like Simon, he'd insisted on a face-to-face encounter; he sat up on the side of his bed in his small, dingy urban apartment. Curtis observed from his seat on a large trunk in the corner, and Jason, Roland, and Simon all stood around Caleb. None of the foursome had asked for permission to return to Droydania, so they were all in violation of the law, but in truth, Droydanian officials and policemen were mostly kept busy warding off the attacks of carnivorous ostriches and two-headed vipers. Thousands of Droydanians, it was estimated, had already taken their time escaping the verse in all the confusion.

"So, here's everything I told her, and hopefully it'll do you some good." Caleb shoved his hands in his pockets and began his story.

"For as long as the Droydanian Empire's been around, it's used censorship extensively to hide its atrocities, silence protest, and thwart any attempts at organized revolt. When the Droydanian internet boomed eight years ago and was connected to the interdimensional network soon afterwards, the government stepped in. It set up a system called the Imperial Portal, in which one out of every hundred packets sent or received by a Droydanian computer got routed through its servers. So, it could effectively oversee everything Droydanians did on the Internet. The system was effective: I had a friend who thought it was all bark and no bite, 'cause he didn't think the government would actually allocate the manpower necessary to comb through all that data. He tried to start a discussion about emigration on a BBS. He's gone now."

"Spooky." said Jason.

"It's because of that kind of oppression" said Simon "that I'm happy to stop living in Droydania."

"So I, among a lot of others, was keen on finding a solution to the Portal problem." Caleb continued. "I'm a good cracker: I've taken lots of 'secure' servers offline. Of course, just bashing on the Imperial Portal wouldn't solve anything; it would pop back on in a day. I was part of a little group that looked for some way to work around it. It was hard to work together, of course, since we couldn't talk about it over the Internet or the phone." He frowned and cursed the name of censorship. "Eventually, though, I got a solution from—get this—a visitor in a dream.

"I was only fifteen then. I dreamed that I was walking through the playground I used to go to when I was, like, six. Except, it was deserted, and I knew I was dreaming. I kept telling myself 'Wake up, wake up!', but I wouldn't.

"Suddenly, someone called 'Caleb, Caleb!' 'Here I am.' I said. I looked and I saw a monkey with bright red fur, swinging on the monkey bars just… nonchalant as you please. It jumped down and walked up to me. 'Caleb,' it said, 'I am a spirit of goodness. Though you do not know me, I know of your quest to thwart the forces of evil, and I will help you. When you awaken, simply open your heart, and I will show you the way.'"

"So, I woke up, wondering what my shrink would think of all that, and kind of annoyed that I had woken up before I'd been able to ask the monkey any questions. I remembered that dream, and I still remember it today, vividly—more vividly than anything that's happened to me in real life, actually.

"But here's the really crazy part. I thought about what that monkey'd said, and I wondered—well, I wondered if there was anything to it. I tried 'opening my heart', for lack of a better term. I just sat there on my bed, took a deep breath, and thought <Come on! I'm ready!> Just for kicks, really.

"And then, bam! it happened. I suddenly felt overwhelmed by some enormous force, like I'd been tossed off a cliff. I writhed for a moment, and then, I was possessed. Totally possessed: I couldn't control any of my movements, only watch and feel as someone else did. I saw myself in that mirror" (he pointed to one hanging on the wall) "and I was covered in ghostly white fire, even though I couldn't see it on myself, and I wasn't burning. And my eyes were glowing red, though my vision was normal.

"Then, the monkey that was controlling my body made me sit down, pick up a pen, and write this."

Caleb got up from the bed, opened a drawer of his desk, and pulled out a few sheets of paper. Everyone, even Curtis, took a look at them. They were a highly detailed, highly technical description of the hardware and software behind the Imperial Portal. Beside schematic diagrams so precisely drawn (freehand, Caleb said) that they seemed the product of a machine were explanations, tables of figures, and even source-code excerpts written in an ornate, beautiful script. If Leonardo da Vinci had gone to a Waldorf school and then obtained a degree in computer science elsewhere, his notebooks might've looked similar. (Caleb showed the party a sample of his own handwriting; it was nothing but chicken-scratches.) At the end was a terse, double-underlined injunction: "Tell no one of our meeting; burn these papers when you are through with them."

"I can't believe you had the guts to defy that." said Jason, shaking his head.

"It made me speak that line, too," said Caleb, "looking in that mirror, right at those red eyes. And then it left me. Nothing like that ever happened to me again."

"Were you able to accomplish anything with this information?" said Roland.

"Oh, yeah. It wasn't a walk in the park, sure, but with that, I was able to design a virus that's still active on the Imperial-Portal servers. It modifies incoming transmissions, so they look different to the censors, or hides them completely, and then send the originals to their intended targets. It also forwards governmental email to me and sends me reports of any changes the administrators make, so I can update it. And, the virus gives the censors a few fake illegal transmissions, so they don't get suspicious." Caleb grinned. "I'm proud of it, even though I got supernatural help. It's still going strong. Without knowing it's there, people have found that they can say whatever they want, so long as they're a little careful. The censors have realized something's going on, after four years, but they have no idea what it is. Man, I remember playing hooky just to code that virus… it took me only two months. Good times."

"Nothing bad's happened to you for disobeying the command at the end of the papers?" said Jason.

"Nope." said Caleb. "I've kept it pretty secret, though. The only people I've told are you four and Leela."

"Why did you go to Leela?" said Jason.

"Because… well, this thing had come out of nowhere to help me, and I wanted to know what it was. It was thirty weeks after the monkey had talked to me, and I was pretty sure it wasn't coming back."

"I see. Did she tell you anything of interest?"

"Not really. She said what I'd told her was definitely useful, and that she'd tell me more when she knew more. Then she went into hiding. She did tell me the suicide would be fake, at least."

"My mother was very careful." said Simon. "We must be just as careful, given that the Supernals most likely want to kill us as much as they wanted to kill her."

"Well," said Jason, "this has all been very interesting. Unfortunately, it doesn't tell us where we might find Leela."

"Do you have any clues?" said Caleb.

"All we know that her home is buried beneath unmarked ground in a cold, snowy place." said Jason. "She could be in any verse."

Caleb thought for a moment. "I have one idea, though it really isn't plausible."


"You know how some people like to read news-feeds or blogs? I read governmental email, courtesy of my virus. Several times, I've read mention of a powerful magical object that's been passed down along the Emperors of Droydania for generations. It's a gold bracelet, thin and without any jewels on it, that can send anyone who wears it to any location, anywhere in the multiverse. Currently, it's on Ursamor's wrist; she wears it all the time."

"Powerful indeed." said Roland. "You're suggesting we use this to teleport ourselves to wherever Leela's hiding, I presume?"

"What are we gonna do," said Jason, "mug the Emperor?"

"I said it wasn't plausible." Caleb pointed out.

"Perhaps I can come up with a plan." said Jason hopefully. "Are there any other bracelets like that, which might be more accessible?"

"No, it's unique."

"Go figure. Well, thank you very much, sir. If we do find Leela and discover the truth, I'll try to see if I can pass it on to you."

"So," said Jason, once the four of them were in the hallway outside of Caleb's apartment, "do we believe him?"

"I believe him." said Roland.

"I believe him." said Simon. Roland eyed him for a moment.

"Why not?" said Curtis.

"How about you, Jason?" said Roland.

"Yes," said Jason, "in spite of myself. There was a red animal, and Caleb got flames and glowing eyes when he was possessed, just like Zadoc. It can't be a coincidence." He paused. "There is the small possibility that he actually did hear other accounts from Leela, and used them to construct an elaborate lie, but that's actually more far-fetched, I think. There'd be no motive, either."

"Here's what I'd like to know:" said Roland: "how did you become the mouthpiece of this group?"

Jason shrugged. "I do it tolerably well, don't I?"

"Tolerably well." Roland admitted. "Someday, though, you're bound to insult someone with your endless questions. Not everyone is as patient with that sort of thing as I am."

"Perhaps," said Simon, "but asking questions is, I think, a good habit. It's especially necessary that we ask questions of those who might be able to lead us to Leela. Jason, I'm comfortable letting you speak for us."

"Curt?" said Jason.

"I don't want to talk and listen all the time." Curtis replied. "You're good at it, so you can do it."

"Ha!" said Jason, turning to Roland. "Majority rules."

Roland sighed. "And to think, I'm older than all of you. God, I am old! I was in my twenties just last summer, I'd swear, and now I'm thirty-four!"

"Now, we need to go somewhere we can chat without fear of Supernals" (Jason gestured at the ceiling) "or humans" (he gestured at the apartment doors) "overhearing us."

Simon knew this city, and so he lead the party to…

"An old abandoned warehouse!" said Jason. "Now we can conspire in true supervillainous style."

It was dusty, windowless, and dark. Roland closed the door, then took out a tiny flashlight and played it about; there was nothing to be seen but cobwebs and empty boxes. The party arranged some of the boxes in a circle, put the flashlight, pointing upwards, in the center, and then quietly took their seats. Their faces were bright splotches of light striped with shadows and surrounded by darkness.

Simon sneezed. "This would be an especially bad time to be attacked by monsters." he remarked.

"Indeed." said Jason. "So, we need a plan to swipe that bracelet right off Ursamor's wrist."

"Anyone who did so could escape easily," said Simon, "but it would be very difficult to get close enough to her in order to take the bracelet in the first place. Being an emperor, she's always in danger of assassination, so she would never let strangers come so near to her person."

"Why don't we just fight past her guards to get to her?" said Curtis.

"I refuse to participate in such slaughter." said Simon. "Murder is against my principles."

Roland suddenly lashed out at him. "That's just because you don't―"

"Roland!" said Jason. "Please. We're trying to work as a team."

"Tell that to the pacifist." Roland said bitterly.

"Actually, he has a point." said Jason to Simon. "If push comes to shove, you need to be willing to use violence to help us on our quest. Otherwise, your magic won't do us much good."

"I can be violent," said Simon, "if it seems truly necessary, as when we were attacked by that monster. What I object to is attacking a fellow human without provocation."

"Guys, I forgot something." said Curtis. "If Ursamor knows we're coming for her, she can just teleport away with the bracelet."

"Oh, right." said Jason. "Could we teleport next to her, then?"

"In theory, yes," said Simon, "but teleportation is imprecise. If you teleported, you'd most likely appear a little too far from Ursamor, or facing in the wrong direction. By the time you got your bearings, Ursamor would've moved away."

"We don't even know if it's loosely hung on her wrist." said Roland. "If it isn't, the guards she'd inevitably have on hand would kill us before we could wrench it off."

"It is, actually." said Simon. "I did notice her bracelet in the pictures I've seen of her, though I didn't know its function."

"That's good, at least." said Jason. "The only real difficulty, then, is getting close enough. I must be able to think of a way."

"One of the few rights all Droydanian citizens have" said Simon "is to demand an audience with the Emperor. If the Emperor deems the meeting unnecessary, though—and she usually does—the citizen is punished. Moreover, she's always careful to keep visitors some distance from her throne, with a magical shield in-between. There's no easy way to get any nearer."

"I certainly won't be able to help you with that." said Roland to Jason. "Ursamor's no fool; she wouldn't trust a Gyeedian politician any further than she could throw him. I have to admit, for a woman, she plays her cards in the IDC shrewdly."

"I guess I'll need more than rudimentary trickery, then." said Jason. "Let me think, guys."

He went over every possible way he might get within arm's reach of that bracelet. Were there times Ursamor didn't wear it? No, Caleb had said she always did. Then how could Jason (or any of the other three) get near her? Impersonation seemed out of the question.

"Invisibility?" Jason said hopefully.

"We don't have the money." said Roland. "Furthermore, Ursamor's palace no doubt has some mechanisms in place to thwart that—curtained doorways and the like."

"What if we sell nearly everything we've got," said Jason, "and teleport right next to her while invisible?"

"Oh, that'd mess with the invisibility." said Curtis.

"Yes," said Roland, "as you might remember, sudden movements disrupt invisibility. Teleportation definitely counts as sudden movement."

"Well, dang."

There had to be some way, in this world full of magic. Jason's eyes roved around in the darkness as the other three sat in stony silence. For some time, the only sound was Curtis drumming his fingers on his box.

"I don't think we're getting anywhere." the prince said.

"Yes," said Jason, "I'm afraid―" He stopped in mid-sentence as something occurred to him. A grin slowly spread across his face. "I knew I'd do it! Guys, I have the germ of an idea. Listen up:" and so he explained his plan.

"I'm reminded strongly of your plan for dealing with Thorm." said Roland. "It's a good one, though there's a much greater danger that Ursamor will catch on than there was for Thorm; she's far wiser."

"I think it's a good plan." said Simon. "It's decently likely to succeed. The main problem is the danger it puts us in afterwards, but I don't think there's any way to avoid such danger."

"I like it." said Curtis.

"Well then," said Jason, "by golly, we'll do it."