The Best Kind of Intensity

Summer had just officially begun in Gyeeds, but it was a particularly hot day, and the High Court's air-conditioning had not yet been turned on, when Roland sat at the little table used for examining witnesses in Room 227. Roland sweat into his new suit, which looked much like his old one. He had bought it for himself with some stolen money at Jason's insistence. (When asked by a reporter, Roland had said a well-wisher had given it to him.) Jason, rising from the defendants' table and walking over to Roland, couldn't help but be reminded of "Twelve Angry Men" and the courtroom scene of "To Kill a Mockingbird". Unbearable heat and humidity accentuated the feeling of oppression and anxiety that fighting a legal battle engendered. It was a tension borne by the knowledge that lives were at stake, but only with cool logic and charisma could one hope to save them from the vengeful talons of the law. And Jason, unlike Juror #8 and Atticus Finch, wasn't just fighting for the lives of others: his own sorry hide was on the line, as well. He licked his lips.

"Roland," he said, in a voice that sounded much bolder and more confident than he felt, "describe what you found in your apartment the day you returned from the voyage of the "Argo" along with me and Curtis."

"Assassins." said Roland. "There were three men wielding guns loaded with Piercers scattered throughout the house. We were only able to surprise them, rather than being surprised by them, because you smelled them before we entered the apartment."

"What exactly did you do?"

"We simply burst in and attacked them as soon as they fired. The fight didn't last long. We weren't hurt, but two of them died. We interrogated the survivor."

Jason tried not to look at Nolan. "And what did he tell you?"

"That they'd been hired by Jacob Triskin, the alchemist who'd invented the Piercers." A murmur rippled through the crowd. "He'd hired them to kill us because he feared we might be looking for him. He had spies in the Gyeedian government who knew that I had been charged with solving the mystery of the Raincatcher massacre."

"Did this man you interrogated say where Jake was?"

"Yes, in the Dojese royal castle."

"What else did you learn from him?"

"Nothing. He escaped from us shortly afterwards."

"And why didn't you tell the police about the ambush?"

"Because of the spies, of course! For once, we had the chance to catch the very inventor of the Piercers. Were we going to lose it to the corruption and the incompetence of Stanley Ironbone's administration?"

There was a much louder murmur this time. Stanley's administration had been as ethical as large political bureaucracies can reasonably be expected to be, and Stanley, in addition to being highly competent himself, had always been careful to choose competent appointees. Yet the watching public didn't seem to reject Roland's sentiment; just as Jason and Roland were revising their past here, Gyeedians in general were revising Gyeeds's past, especially the last few years of it. That Stanley and company had made for a terrible government was what the public wanted to believe; hearing it from Stanley's former right-hand man himself only seemed to justify it further. Jason dared to feel an iota of hope.

"So what did you do?" said Jason.

"We made some excuse for why we needed to return to Dojum, and there we went. Once we found out where Jake's room was, we entered it in the middle of the night using Curtis's master key."

"What did you plan to do with Jake?"

"Interrogate him."

"So did you?"

"We didn't get a chance. I believe he woke up as we entered the room. As soon as we had closed the door, he jumped out of his bed and started casting spells at us." (In other words, Greedo had shot first.) "I was able to throw up a shield before the first projectile hit any of us. We only struggled a bit more before I managed to strike him with a lightning bolt. It was of a high enough power to kill him immediately. You flipped the light switch, and then we all saw him for the first time, blackened and crumpled into a ball in the corner of the room."

"You didn't seek medical care for him?"

"He was dead. I knew enough emergency medical care to verify that."

"So there was a definite struggle in the moments before Jake's death. You killed him in self-defense."

"Of course."

"But then how do you explain Sandro's testimony?" (Sandro was the royal relative who'd been sleeping next door.) "He said that all he heard was talking, not shouting, and we all know that you, Roland, cannot cast spells quietly."

"Indeed, but Akolos's castle in Dojum is just that, a castle. All the walls are of thick stone. Considering that, it's amazing that Sandro heard anything—and if he did hear anything, we can be sure that it wasn't speech at a conventional volume."

Jason nodded. "And what did you do afterwards?"

"We went through Jake's few possessions scattered about the floor to see if we could find any clues to the Raincatcher massacre. We didn't, although we did find clear and convincing evidence that he'd invented the Piercers."

"And where is that evidence now?" said Jason.

"At the bottom of the Starving Sea, along with Jake's body. None of us were eager to be put on trial as we are today."

"Thank you. That'll be all." Jason said to the judge, and he and Roland returned to their seats.

The timing of Jason's plan worked out well. It was just as the prosecutors had finished with their initial argument and Jason was allowed to present Roland's testimony when the journalists and scholars of the High-Court Report began to foretell Droydania's doom. Droydania was definitely losing, they said; not only was Roland's explanation of events far more plausible, the people of Gyeeds had already decided that the party was innocent of any real crimes. In truth, only two of the case's thirteen jurors were Gyeedian, and no more than three others hailed from allied countries, so the feelings of the Gyeedian public had little influence on any verdict that might emerge. But as the High-Court Report's chief executives treated each other to meals at the best restaurants in the city and began visiting dealers of luxury cars, the truth was not among their chief concerns. Meanwhile, Roland had had the bright idea to assemble his bribes by stealing small amounts of money out of many accounts, so as to avoid making headlines at other news sources. He wrote a program in a scripting language not entirely unlike Perl that automated everything but flipping the coin; he would've automated that, too, by building a coin-flipping and -reading machine, if only he'd had the necessary mechanical know-how.

Not very far into Droydania's rebuttal (involving such interesting things as the testimony of an engineer who said that yes, you'd definitely be able to hear the difference between a shout and normal speech through one of the castle's interior walls), Roland got an opportunity to put the second part of Jason's plan into action. During a court recess, one of Droydania's lawyers made for the bathroom reserved for people who were working or being tried at the court, as opposed to the general public. Roland followed him. Once the lawyer was inside a toilet-stall, Roland pricked his own finger with a pin. He removed a thread from his suit, bloodied it, and placed it on the side of a sink. It was highly visible on the white ceramic, though he'd placed it to look as if he'd accidentally dropped it. He washed his hands and returned to the courtroom before the lawyer emerged from the stall.

Three days later, Jason was pleased to see Droydania's lawyers brandishing the bloody thread in a tiny zipper bag, the advanced technology of the IDC verses having allowed them to identify the blood as Roland's within an interval that brief. They said they'd found it in the narrow stripe of floor between Jake's nightstand and Jake's bed. According to Roland's testimony, Roland had never gotten near that part of the room, and he hadn't even gotten a paper cut in the struggle, yet here was a thread from his suit with his blood on it—so (the lawyers argued) he couldn't have been telling the truth. The audience thought this a compelling piece of evidence. However, once the proceedings for that day were over, Roland met the judge privately and explained that he believed the thread was one he'd left by accident in the bathroom, as he vaguely recalled doing just a few days earlier. He added that his belief was testable by the fact that he'd been wearing a different suit during the struggle with Jake, which he could bring to court if necessary, from the one he was wearing now. The judge, intrigued, promised to declare a mistrial if it could be proven that the thread came from Roland's new suit.

So, Jason hired a textile chemist to analyze the thread and compare it to the two suits. The chemist testified that the thread was from the new suit. There was a deep intake of breath throughout the courtroom, and the judge declared that since the prosecutors had obviously falsified evidence, the case was off. Before Droydania's lawyers even had a chance to explain more than one of their accusations or either of Curtis or Simon could say a word in court, it was all over. Gyeedians cheered. The party hadn't been proven innocent as they'd hoped, but in their eyes, Droydania had definitively been proven guilty.

When a horde of journalists descended upon the party on the steps of the courthouse, the party didn't flee. Instead, Jason said to a reporter for one of the most popular news networks "I'll give you a formal interview if you like."

The reporter stopped in the middle of the question he'd been asking and put his microphone down. Gears whirred in his head momentarily. "Can the four of you come to the studio at noon tomorrow?"

"Sure." said Jason. "Let's go, guys." At once, they teleported back to Mount Olympus.

They spent the rest of the day and the following morning designing their lie, sometimes leaving the truth as it was and sometimes tweaking it a bit; sometimes deciding to leave out full episodes and sometimes creating new tales from whole cloth. The story as they told it to the television cameras was believable and mostly truthful in its accusations of Droydanian misconduct, while thoroughly whitewashing the party's own crimes. Still, both the interviewer and the audience swallowed the story hook, line, and sinker; not a hint of skepticism was to be found. The only negative reaction the party got was when Simon spoke. Seeing the puzzlement at his boyish voice, Simon mentioned his eunuchism in passing. The crowd clearly did not like this, and the interviewer cringed in spite of herself. Roland was about the speak when Jason averted disaster by quickly changing the subject. He took over the parts he'd planned for Simon for the remainder of the interview.

A day later, Jason, Roland, and Curtis—but not Simon—were invited to meet Lloyd Waverunner, Mayor of Gyeeds. Face-to-face with Lloyd, Jason found him to be the very personification of the "New Gyeeds" of which political analysts spoke: young, earnest, effusive, and ebullient with idealism. He shook hands with vigor and a wide smile, his bright blue eyes shining, praising the party for their "patriotic spirit" and presenting them with Mayoral Medals of Courage, a minor honor, on national television. Afterwards, it somehow developed that Lloyd, having heard of the party's essential homelessness (Jason, in response to one of the interviewer's questions, had said "Oh, we just crash with whoever'll take us. We have friends scattered throughout the city."), had arranged for them to get a luxury apartment in an affluent neighborhood of Gyeeds gratis.

"I can't thank you enough." said Jason to Lloyd as they were leaving. "I mean, I'm not sure we deserve all this. In the end, we only did what we did for ourselves—to satisfy our own sense of justice. We weren't actually very altruistic, as people seem to think we were."

For the first time that day, Lloyd dropped his intense friendliness and grew serious. "In fact," he said, "that's exactly what makes the three of you so heroic. You, Jason, have seen many classical altruists among your fellow Interdimensional Councilmen, haven't you? You know as well as I do how ineffective they are. In trying to please everyone, to diffuse all antagonism, to bring about interdimensional peace while avoiding all conflict, they try to make paper without cutting down trees, and they allow countless competing interests to bog them down while single-minded villains plow ahead unabated. In a world as huge and complicated as this, with so many nations with their own agendas, our only hope for real justice is those who follow their hearts." He placed a paternal hand on Jason's shoulder. "My boy, if you remember nothing else, remember this: the one true guide is your own inner light."

Back in Mount Olympus, Jason remarked "Well. Lloyd's a little intense, huh?"

"The best kind of intensity." said Roland, smiling.

"You've certainly warmed up to him." said Jason.

"Yes, I freely confess it," said Roland, "I too am now a Lloydian. Just talking to Lloyd for that short space has convinced me of his goodness. You can just see his love for mankind shine out of his eyes."

Curtis made a skeptical noise. "He didn't invite Simon. What's he have against him?"

"Gyeedian prejudice." said Jason. "I hope you don't feel slighted, Simon."

"Actually, I was thankful to have some time to myself." said Simon. "I spent a while thinking over the events of the recent past. It occurred to me to realize, among other things, that Gyeedians have been unusually accepting of us and our stories. Gyeeds is generally as ideologically diverse as it is racially diverse. But I've encountered very little skepticism with regard to our explanations, and very little disagreement with our ostensible objectives. I could count all the dissenters I've heard of on one hand, while nearly everyone else in this city reveres us. And so I wonder simply: what's going on?"

"I'll tell you, Simon." said Roland. The boys braced themselves. "The answer is just as simple: the times are changing. Or, as they say in English, 'the times, they are a-changin''. And by now, in truth, we've perfected our fictitious account of our adventures—so much so that I'm starting to believe the story myself."

After months of roughing it in the Droydanian wilderness and butting heads with fantastic monsters and policemen alike, the party finally returned to civilized life. They moved into the luxury apartment, leaving a few things in Mount Olympus just in case, and integrated themselves into society with surprising success. Jason and Curtis returned to school. At first, their teachers and classmates treated them strangely: they were unique celebrities. Soon the initial shock faded away, and Jason was more thankful for the fact that Gyeedians were not celebrity-worshipers than ever. Roland, after considering his considerable options, got a job as an instructor in the use of Emotion magic. Simon wanted to resume singing, but Gyeedians did not appreciate castrati; after searching for some weeks for an employer who would tolerate him, he ended up as an editor at a minor publishing house, where his great care and patience worked to his advantage. At least Roland didn't make a fuss about Simon living in his house.

No sooner had Jason settled down than he fired off an email to the underground intelligence network asking where Leela was hiding. He got a response a few days later, which said which verse she was in. Which verse was that, you ask? Well, I don't want to give it away too quickly. See if you can guess. Think about the defining characteristics of my story so far, and then ask yourself: where would an interdimensional fugitive most likely hide?

"Is that some kind of joke?" said Jason.

"I doubt it could be true." said Simon. "How would my mother get there without being detected?"

"There's only one way to find out." said Jason. He pulled the coin out of his pocket and asked the question that was on everybody's mind. It came eagle-side up. "What the heck?" Jason cried. "She is on Earth!"

Later, after a lot of pointless hypothesizing about how Leela could've verseported to Earth without the verseportation being traced, and why Leela would want to hide on Earth specifically in the first place, Jason sat down with the coin and flipped it as many times as necessary to find Leela's geographic coordinates to the nearest tenth of a second. They were 78° 55′ 23.2″ N, 39° 04′ 18.0″ W. Using a verseviewer with Roland's computer, Jason identified the spot as a featureless chunk of earth in the ice-covered northern interior of Greenland.

"Underneath that ten-foot square of ground," Jason said to the others, "Leela has her little home. Talk about a hiding-place."

"How do we get in?" said Curtis.

"Who knows?" said Roland. "It shouldn't be too hard to figure out, given the small size of the area in question. The hard part is to verseport to Earth without verseporting to Earth."

"My mother managed that," said Simon, "and I know her to be a poor spellcaster. It must be somehow possible for us to do the same."

"Leela's a witch?" Roland growled, without looking at Simon. "This is new."

"Maybe the coin can tell us how she got there." said Curtis.

"I don't think so." said Jason. "I have no real way to turn that into a yes-or-no question, because I have no idea what possible form the answer would take. I can't ask the coin to name the method of transportation because I couldn't define the question to its satisfaction—it gives me the edge for ill-defined questions. I can't ask how Leela would describe her method of going from an IDC verse to Earth undetected because the coin won't consider hypotheticals. In short, we're screwed."

"Let's ask the network Frank told us about." said Curtis.

"I doubt it knows," said Jason, "since it's difficult for me to imagine that kind of knowledge failing to spread. But let's see. Does anyone who answers questions on behalf of the underground intelligence network know a method for traveling from an IDC verse to Earth undetected?" The coin replied with the eyes. "Alas."

Jason, Roland, Curtis, and Simon all spent the next few days poring through books, newspapers, and public resources on the Internet for some kind of clue. They found absolutely nothing, and were quickly forced to give up.

Curtis's ninth birthday came on the ninth of July. They had something resembling a birthday party, including Curtis's friends (Curtis, unlike Jason, made friends who did not live with him) and many dentally hazardous comestibles. Jason was used to thinking of Curtis as significantly younger than him, so it felt strange to know that their ages differed by only one.

Weeks flew by. Jason chose not to obtain a prosthetic hand, since the best Gyeeds could offer was a claw for gripping and grabbing that looked like a real hand, which Jason thought wouldn't be very useful. But increasingly, he felt buoyant, cheerful in general and pleased with everything he encountered. He was grateful for the return to everyday life; the comfort of a tedious, unvarying routine; the luxury of going to the same school every day and the same bed every night. Having never felt particularly adventurous from the beginning, he had truly experienced enough thrills to last him for the rest of his life. He had been cured of the restlessness of youth.

But not everything was so sunny. Even if the various monsters throughout the multiverse were no longer attacking cities, and the bulk of them had been exterminated, many of them still roamed through the wilderness, a testament to the undeniably bizarre character of the present. Occasionally, Jason would hear of relations between Gyeeds and Droydania deteriorating further; thinking of the role he had played to spurn this on (merely to clean up his own reputation) made him feel faint. The Schism continued to widen. The big questions remained as unanswered as ever: even though Jason now knew exactly where Leela was, he felt no closer to reaching her. And, last but far from least, the dilemma of the television show haunted Jason's mind. Who was he really, and what was he doing? Was there any guarantee that the show wouldn't just end someday, and Jason would go to sleep never to wake again? Jason lost nearly a whole night's worth of sleep every time he thought of that. Yes, the days were blissful enough, but the nights could be frightful: Jason was rarely well-slept; he was perpetually groggy and haggard. He willfully, nay, eagerly forgot his dreams.

Jason entertained one small grain of hope thus: Leela was on Earth. There had to be a way to get there. And if Jason could get there, he could see more people he dearly longed to see than just Leela.