A Little Common Ordinary Mysterious Message

The party was soon reunited, but not in a fashion any of its members had hoped for: all four now shared a Droydanian jail cell. After deducing where Roland and Simon were being held, Jason had hatched an especially elaborate scheme to free them involving his boots, a swarm of pigeons created by Curtis, and a plaid hassock. Alas, everything had backfired when the pigeons had unexpectedly—oh, let it just be said that everything had backfired. Though happy to see their friends, both men of the party were greatly displeased to have their hopes of rescue quashed. They greeted the boys unenthusiastically, and then all four of the motley crew slouched around. At least they had beds now: two bunk-beds. Jason took the bunk above Roland.

"Home, sweet home." said Jason. His gaze roved over the blank, bleak concrete floor to the door composed of thick steel bars. This was the third time he had been imprisoned. "I feel like Link trying to explore Gerudo Fortress." He looked at the cell's only window, a thin, barred slit located high up on the wall. "If only I had Link's gadgets, I could escape that way." After a moment, he amended "Nah, that'd be a long shot."

"Were your boots taken away?" asked Roland.

"Yup." said Jason sourly. Though allowed to wear their regular clothes, as opposed to zebra-striped shirts or bright-orange jumpsuits, Curtis had been stripped of his magical reagents, and Jason had been relieved of the seven-yard boots. "The only magic we have now" said Jason "is this." He removed the truth-telling coin from his left cheek, where he'd promptly stowed it as soon as he'd realized where he was going. Roland and Simon looked at it with interest.

"Is that the coin you stole from Hayms Nepa?" Simon asked.

"Indeed." said Jason, wiping the spittle off of it with his shirt. He told of his and Curtis's encounter with Miles.

"I won't deny it," said Roland, "the reasoning with which you identified that doppelganger was entirely correct." He was speaking to Jason, of course.

"It appears that the Supernals are now more interested in killing us than ever." said Simon.

"Right as rain." said Jason. "I have no idea why they don't create monsters especially to attack us more often." The bed-frame was made of some flavor of steel, not wood, but he gave it a knock anyway. "Speaking of which, do you guys have any idea how the police came to enlist Gol?"

"None." said Simon. "The last time I saw her, she'd just been apprehended by one of the truck drivers she'd tried to waylay. I can only imagine that the Droydanian authorities coerced her into joining them."

"I guess. And how about how the Droydanian police found us in that warehouse?"

"A security camera, believe it or not." said Roland. "I caught a glimpse of it when the police lit the room."

"In an old abandoned warehouse?" said Jason.

"Yes," said Roland, "and I'm fairly certain it wasn't there the last time we visited."

"The Droydanian police have become much more vigilant within the past few weeks." said Simon. "Of course, it's implausible that they've done so solely to catch us. I suppose they just decided to be more careful after the monsters attacked."

"Well, Jason," said Roland, "I'm afraid it's up to you to find a way out of our common plight, once again." He got to his feet and came to the center of the cell, looking up at Jason. Behind him, Simon lay stretched out on the bottom bunk, and Curtis sat on the top with his legs dangling off the edge. "Here's what I know. The goozack only opens" said Roland, walking to the door, "three times a day. Once in the morning, when we're permitted to use the bathroom; once in the afternoon, when we get a single hour in the exercise yard; and once in the evening, when we're allowed to use the bathroom again. Each time, we're escorted by a veritable platoon of guards."

"And what about meals?" said Jason.

"A single guard slips in trays of food through there" said Roland, pointing at a narrow space under the door, "twice a day. I believe he doesn't actually carry a key."

"And that's your life behind bars." said Jason, gritting his teeth.

"So it has been, for a week." said Roland. That was how long it had taken for Jason to design and execute his plan that had failed so miserably.

"And this is only jail!" said Jason. "I can't imagine what conditions in a Droydanian prison are like."

"They are, in fact, unimaginably terrible." said Simon.

"See why I hate Droydania, Pup?" said Curtis.

"Yes, sir." said Jason. "Still, it was awfully kind of our captors to put all of us in the same cell."

"In a sense, it is, yes." said Simon. "In another sense, their keeping us together is a show of bravado on their part. What I believe they mean to tell us is, this jail is so well secured that even if we schemed together day and night, we'd have no chance of escaping."

"But that's not true, is it?" said Jason.

"I'm afraid it may be." said Simon. "In particular, we certainly couldn't fight our way out, as you and the other Argonauts did in Jilothus."

"Suppose we don't escape. What'll happen to us?"

"We'll be charged with our many crimes, and then stand trial for them, about a week from now. And we'll lose, since our opponent is the government itself, which has complete control over the courts."

"So we won't get a fair trial?"

"Right. But that doesn't matter very much, since we're unambiguously guilty."

Jason nodded, sighing. "And the punishment?"

"An extremely long prison sentence, if we're lucky; a death sentence, if we aren't."

"So, life or death." said Jason. "Can't say I particularly prefer one to the other. I remember last year when Droydania's friends denounced Gyeeds for using the death penalty. It seems that things have changed since then." He crossed his legs and rubbed his chin. The immediate future looked grim; for once, there was no deus ex machina to bust him out of jail. What a jam they were in! How could that silly coin possibly get them out of it? "But… guys, let me ask you something. You, Roland, and you, Simon, have been here, with barely any other company but each other, for a solid week. Have you really said nothing to each other the whole time?"

"I tried speaking to him several times," said Simon, "but he barely acknowledged my presence."

Jason began "And so you've―"

"Passed our joint incarceration in silence, yes." said Roland.

"Man, can you hold a grudge!" said Curtis.

"It is a sad fact of the nature of man" said Roland "that he can, given sufficient time, acclimate himself to anything. He can tolerate the intolerable, suffer the insufferable. And so it is that all too often, forced to enjoy the company of evil, we grow accustomed to it, and let down our guard. We slide from vigilance and resolution to appeasement and apathy. So smooth is the transition that we never realize how far we fall. An example from Terran history springs to mind… regardless, forgetting what must not be forgotten, ignoring what must not be ignored, isn't a mistake I wish to make."

Nobody else quite knew how to respond to that.

As usual, Jason tried to think up a scheme. He had little success. The brief glimpses of various parts of the jail he got while the party was escorted to and from their cell confirmed Simon's belief that straightforward escape was impossible. So far as Jason could see, that left, as the only possibility, actually winning the case—and that didn't seem particularly possible, either. Nor was thinking itself particularly easy. The frigid silence of the jail pressed on his morale with the immense weight of despair; every so often, his attention was entirely diverted by a rush of panic. He felt deeply ill. During the day, he paced unceasingly back and forth through the cell in a vain attempt to flee from his own anxiety. At night, sleep came to him only after a long time, and he awakened frequently; he was careful not to open his eyes until the sun had risen, for he found that, lit by only a few thin stripes of moonlight, the inside of the cell made for an unsettling sight.

"You know more about the operations of Droydanian courts than the rest of us." said Jason to Simon one day. "Is there no way we could get the jury to decide in our favor?"

"Actually, there is no jury." said Simon. "The decision will be made by a single judge. And no, there's no way I can think of. Droydanian judges aren't bound to an assumption of innocence, as courts in most countries are. If the trial somehow goes awry, we'll either be retried or convicted by default."

"Convicted by default?" Jason echoed, as a lump formed in his throat.

Simon nodded gravely. "Our chance of escaping punishment here is negligible."

"So we can't even let this case go to trial, can we?"

"It would be helpful if we could prevent it, but we have no way of doing that, either."

"Hmmm… hey, Roland!"


"Doesn't the IDC have some kind of court of its own we can appeal to?"

"The IDC does have a court." said Roland, looking up from a cobweb in a corner of the cell he'd been staring at for the past half-hour. "The High Court, to be specific. But one can't simply appeal a lost case to it. Cases are only transferred from national courts if a significant number of councilmen agree that a given party is best tried in the High Court rather than the local court. The transferal can only happen before, not after, the local court reaches a verdict."

"Oh." said Jason. "I don't suppose there's any way we could secure transferal. I mean, our chances in the High Court would be far better than our chances here, right?"

"Probably. The problem is that I don't think anyone has much of a desire to put us in the High Court. For one thing, Gyeedians can rest assured I won't get off the hook here." He sighed. "To use the English expression, they 'hate my guts'."

"Eh?" said Curtis.

"They really don't like me." said Roland. "I was reasonably popular up until the cops discovered I'd killed Jake and I resisted arrest. And, of course, some of Stanley's rotten reputation has spilled over to me."

"Perhaps there's some way I could effect a transfer." said Jason. "Or rather, convince the IDC to effect a transfer. Is there something we could do that would convince them it would be in their best interests?" No one replied. "Well… no one on Gyeeds's side of the Schism is fond of the Droydanian justice system, right? I mean, they'll take any excuse to hate Droydania. Surely they accuse Droydanian courts of human-rights violations, et cetera. Then we might appeal to their sense of justice thus: 'We have the right to a fair trial. Give us one!'"

"I don't think that would sufficiently motivate the councilmen." said Roland. "Besides, how would we contact them? We're not allowed telephones or computers here."

"I dunno," said Jason, "I could find a way to sneak out a message, or something. If that appeal wouldn't much move them, though… gosh, I don't know. What's happening to me?" He rubbed his eyes wearily. "I feel like this jail is sapping away at my sanity. With each passing day, my thoughts become more distorted."

"That may be intentional." said Roland, glancing up at the window.

"Ugh. I've got to think of something fast, before I lose the ability to think altogether."

Finally, after some period of time that Jason, thinking about the episode at some later date, couldn't recall the length of—whether two hours or two days, it felt like two weeks—an idea for a letter came to him. There was still the issue of how he would get it delivered, but for the moment, he was happy he had something to do, and was itching to write his ideas down. When the guard brought a meager brunch for the prisoners the following day, Jason saved a few napkins. Using that as his paper, some of the food's juice as ink, and one arm of Roland's glasses as a pen ("It's not as if there's anything to see here." the adventurer had said), Jason was able to write—sort of. One significant wrinkle in the process he hadn't thought of before was that he no longer had his left hand. With his right hand, he wrote slowly and not entirely legibly, especially while he could only hold the paper down with his stump or his left elbow. He was thankful that the letters of the Common alphabet had such simple shapes.

After a while, tired of struggling and running out of ink besides, Jason quit for the day. He lay down on his bed and stared at the door. Eventually, the guard came with dinner. I might as well mention that the guard's name was known to Jason: Norton Lye. No, Jason decided, the given name was better rendered in English phonetics as "Nordon". It was written in an awkward hand on a name-tag the guard had stuck on his shirt-front.

Once the guard was gone and the party had set upon its dinner with mighty appetites borne of malnourishment and boredom, Jason remarked "Old Nordon has hideous handwriting. In fact, it looks very much like my right-handwriting. But he has both of his hands, so that must be what his writing with his better hand looks like. That's pretty bad handwriting."

"Actually," said Simon, "left-handedness is highly stigmatized in Droydania."

"Unlike eunuchism." Roland muttered, only loudly enough for Jason, sitting next to him, to hear.

"So in fact," Simon continued, "if the guard is left-handed, he likely still writes with his right hand."

"Hmmm." said Jason. He went over to the bunk-bed and removed the coin from its hiding-place under the mattress. (All the inmates in the jail were frequently albeit irregularly frisked, and Jason couldn't afford to lose the coin again, so he didn't keep it on his person.) "Is Nordon Lye a lefty?" Jason asked the coin. It replied with the eagle. "Yes. So now we know a potentially embarrassing secret about the guard. That could be useful."

"Useful how?" said Curtis through a mouthful of food. His table-manners had never been exemplary.

Jason only said "We'll see."

That evening, when Nordon arrived with dinner, Jason stood by the door, watching him. Like all the guards, Nordon was well-muscled and reasonably tall, but somehow, he managed to also look underfed, and the glint of timidity in his eyes was reminiscent of the man who'd sold Jason the seven-yard boots. His expression was always lifeless, as if the jail had sucked the fight out of him as effectually as it did to the inmates, or as if he hoped to protect himself from that ghastly draining by not presenting any liveliness to be stolen in the first place. Still, Jason thought the squeak of the wheels of Nordon's food cart was the pleasantest sound he ever heard in that jail, as a meal promised, for at least a few minutes, distraction.

Jason and Nordon looked at each other wordlessly as Nordon unloaded four trays and pushed them under the door. Then, just as Nordon was about to take his cart and wheel it away to another occupied cell, wherever one might be in this great, almost empty jail, Jason said quietly "You're left-handed."

Nordon looked back at Jason fearfully. "How did you know that?"

"I have my sources." said Jason, smiling in a way he hoped looked mysterious. His friends watched silently. "In fact, I have potentially limitless knowledge; I can answer any question about the present or the past—any question, so long as its answer is yes or no. It just takes me a day to find the answer."

"How?" said Nordon.

"Each night, if I ask a question out loud before I lay down to sleep, the answer comes to me, symbolically, in my dreams. From the day I was born, I've had this power. And it was with this power that I was able to avoid arrest for so long."

"Why are you telling me this?" said Nordon. "What do you want from me?"

"Only a very small favor." said Jason. "I want you to give me paper and something to write with, pass on the letter I write, and give me receipt of its delivery."

"And why should I do that?"

"Because I will pay for it with knowledge. Think! With just a little care and creativity, you could turn such knowledge greatly to your advantage."

"And how do I know you'll tell me the truth?"

"Why would I lie?"

"No, I mean, how do I know your dreams are correct in the first place?"

"A fair enough concern. Ask me two or three questions you know the answers to, but think I don't. I'll answer them for free."

"All right." said Nordon. "How about this: was my maternal grandfather born at night or during the day?"

"I'll tell you tomorrow." said Jason.

"All right, then." said Nordon, wheeling the cart away.

"Don't you remember what happened the last time you pretended to be a magical being?" said Roland.

"Shut up." said Jason.

When Jason correctly informed Nordon that his mother's father had been born during the day, Nordon asked whether the middle digit of his secondary PIN, a kind of identification for Droydanian citizens aggressively kept secret by the government (as opposed to the primary PIN, which was public), was even or odd. It was even. Finally, Nordon asked "What color am I thinking of, black or white?" and Jason, a day later, replied "Black. Are you convinced?"

"I guess so. One in eight is pretty good."

"What about one in eight?" said Jason.

"There was a one-eighth chance of you guessing them all." Curtis explained.

"All right." said Jason. "Now, I'll answer another question of your choice after you deliver my letter. Can you get me paper and a pencil?"

Now decently equipped, Jason set about writing. It was still difficult, thanks to his mutilation. When he complained, Roland offered to write as Jason dictated; Jason happily agreed. So in Roland's careful, ornate cursive—ornate insofar as Common characters could be made ornate—Jason plead to Gyeeds and its allies in general to transfer the party to the High Court of the Interdimensional Council. He said that although his and his friends' actions might seem nonsensical and pointlessly destructive seen through the eye of the media, they were guided by a single, noble purpose: to undermine Droydania's side of the Schism, the extremely loose alliance of countless right-leaning verses that Jason, borrowing from the rhetoric of the Bush administration, called "the axis of evil".

The atrocities that are daily committed in these verses, by governments, against citizens and against other governments, are no secret. Yet we, the people of the free world, routinely avert our eyes and allow the slaughter and the degradation of humankind to continue unabated. We are afraid to get our hands dirty in the affairs of outsiders; we are afraid to intervene. We wait, hoping against hope that the kings and emperors of the axis of evil may finally see the light and repent, or, failing that, that their subjects may take up arms against them. But the evil isn't waning; it's only growing stronger, steadily extending its influence across the multiverse and tightening its grip on its familiar territory. If we remain inactive for much longer, it will overwhelm us. It is my belief that we have waited long enough.

It was out of this frustration with inaction, this longing for justice, that Roland, Curtis, and I hunted down the inventor of the Piercers, Jacob Triskin, who planned to sell his weapons in vast quantities to Droydania. We hoped to bring him to justice, but he resisted our attempts to subdue him and was killed in the resulting struggle. Can you blame us for trying to hide the death? The world wasn't ready for the truth, and besides, our work wasn't done. It turned out that Jake had gotten part of the recipe for the Piercers from a bizarre death-worshiping cult called Thanatos. Further investigation led us to Droydania itself, where Simon Baria joined us, and as we followed the faint trail of clues into the heart of darkness, we saw more and more of the shadowy underside of Droydania.

In a nutshell, Jason argued that he had actually been fighting for the side of good. Only near the end of the letter did he ask to be transferred to the High Court, saying that so long as his case stayed in Droydania's jurisdiction, Droydania could hush up all the inconvenient truths about it that would inevitably come up during the trial. Implicitly, there was also a simple plea for justice, as Jason had originally planned. Once Jason finished dictating, he signed the letter.

"I'm afraid we may be making promises we can't keep." said Roland, folding up the paper.

"Probably." said Jason. "Who cares? Keeping our promises isn't the point. I mean, once we get in the High Court, we can't be sent back to Droydania, can we?"

"Once we're convicted, we can." said Roland.

"We won't get convicted!" said Jason, stamping his foot. "I'll get us off on some kind of technicality, or my name ain't Jason Blue."

"We won't have enough of a reputation to function in normal society." Roland lamented.

"And so we won't try. We'll immediately go back into hiding and continue the search for Leela—won't we?" The other three looked at each other without saying anything. "I'll take that as a yes. We'll begin by using Frank's underground intelligence network."

"That would be difficult," said Roland, "seeing as the piece of paper on which I wrote the information was taken from me."

"No worries." said Curtis. "I've got it memorized."

"Very good." said Jason. "That was a close one."