The Second Wave

After Jason, Roland, Curtis, Simon, and Leela had brainstormed for an hour or so, Jason finally suggested they try hunting down and interrogating a sapient monster belonging to either side. There was, he reasoned, an infinitesimal chance they might learn something helpful. They could prevent a monster from being divinely destroyed before any use could be made of it, as Miles had been, by confronting it indoors, out of sight of the gods.

"It's better than nothing." said Curtis feebly.

The others nodded, and then the party took its leave of Leela. They exchanged cryptographic keys with her, so she could communicate with them secretly through email. After a good-bye that had Simon and Jason (but not any of the others) suddenly tearing up, the party went back to the Italian physicist's house to recuperate before returning to Gyeeds.

That night—"night" relative to Jason's circadian rhythm, as opposed to the sun—after Roland had gone to sleep, Jason got up and awakened Curtis and Simon.

"What's wrong?" said Simon, propping himself up on his bed. Jason and Curtis stood beside him.

"I think you can guess." said Jason. "We need to decide what to do about Roland."

There was an awkward pause, and Curtis said "I guess we have to split up from him."

"No, actually," said Simon, "I think the four of us should continue to work as a group."

Jason glowered. "Don't you value your life, stupid? You might not be so lucky the next time he tries to kill you."

"Make no mistake," said Simon, "I'm well aware of Roland's homicidal intentions."

"I should hope so!" said Jason in a strained voice.

"I'm also capable of defending myself." said Simon. "Did you see his expression while I was strangling him? He was extremely surprised and deathly afraid. I'm sure that on some less-than-conscious level, he'd always assumed I was harmless. He'll be more careful on his next attempt."

"You obviously know―" said Jason.

"Simon," said Curtis, "don't you wanna just get away from Roland so he can't kill you?"

"The problem is, living elsewhere won't protect me." said Simon. "I understand him well by now, I think, and from what insight into his personality I have, I can tell he plans to kill me no matter what I do. Living and working with him allows me to keep track of him. That's important to me not just to help protect my own life, but for the general good. Because, although it may be ironic for me to say this, I believe that Roland is evil. We've all seen him murder purely out of spite many times. He's a danger to society. I think that if I carefully observe him, and act wisely at the right time, I may be able to stop him from committing an atrocity."

"He already has committed atrocities!" said Jason.

"None of them were comparable in magnitude to what he's willing, and may someday be able, to do." said Simon. "Do you doubt that?"

Jason thought for a moment, then said "Yes. I don't think he's Hitler."

"Who's Hitler?" said Simon.

Used as Jason was to living in a world where all of Terran history was as relevant to the man on the street as the backstory of "The Lord of the Rings", it did seem quite surreal to him that Simon had never heard of Hitler. He chuckled weakly. "A Terran dictator. He was responsible for a few million deaths about sixty years ago."

"You don't think Roland would be willing to kill a few million people?" said Simon.


"Don't worry; you don't have to answer. At any rate, none of Roland's behavior will matter if the gods annihilate the human race. It seems entirely sensible to me that we should unite against a common enemy. Haven't we all been talking about the importance of team solidarity lately?"

"You and I have."

"Then let's take our own advice."

"Won't his fighting with you hurt us as a team?" said Curtis.

"Not as much as if either of us was entirely absent from the team." said Simon. "Boys, I think we should continue to work as we have been working. Do you object?"

The eleven-year-old and the nine-year-old gave each other a look. "Well, Simon," said Jason, "if you're okay with Roland being on our team, I guess we can keep him. He poses no danger to Curtis or me. I'll definitely keep an eye on him, though, and I'll give you a heads-up if I suspect he's plotting something."

"Good." said Simon. "Don't worry too much, though. Roland won't try again for a while. He's frightened, and he hopes I might let down my guard over time. He's wrong: the next time he attacks me, I'll be ready, and I'll make him regret it."

Jason thought <I never expected to hear Simon talk that way.>

Back in Gyeeds—no one had missed them—the party trolled the usual research venues for news of sapient monsters. They were largely unsuccessful. It seemed that almost all of the creatures that Life and Death had created in hordes last April were now either dead or well hidden. The only ones now known to exist were a few thoroughly non-sapient monsters, some kept in laboratories for research purposes, others wandering through the woods and hills of various verses. (Gol had recently been murdered in mysterious circumstances.) Occasionally, the foursome would seize on the faintest rumor that some thinking creature was running wild somewhere, and would travel to an inhospitable region of a distant verse only to be disappointed. The only such monster they actually did encounter in those days was a seven-foot-tall unicorn with jet-black hair, burning violet eyes, and a crooked, moonlight-white horn. As soon as it spotted Roland, it teleported away in the blink of an eye. Judicious application of the magical coin revealed that it was now in the woods of Droydania, where several like individuals lived, but the party was unwilling and mostly incapable of returning to that verse.

"If there remains any doubt in your mind of the truth of my explanation," Leela had said, "all you need do is watch the world around you." That doubt evaporated as Jason watched the American presidential contest, of which I've already told. He'd been following it from the very beginning of the Democratic nomination, but it was only when John F. Kerry and George W. Bush stood behind their respective podiums in the first official debate, a few weeks after he'd met Leela, that Jason saw the gods behind the candidates. When Bush won, he understood it was a victory for more than just the Republican Party.

"How did that happen?" Jason asked Simon one day. Though Simon knew little of Earth in general, Jason had talked with him about the election frequently, and he was now familiar with its politics. "Why did they pick Bush?"

"Because they want peace." said Simon.

"Peace? But the Bush administration started an unnecessary war! It doesn't stand for peace!"

"The platform of the Republican Party is security, not pacifism. The idea is that Bush will ensure the United States is safe from foreigners by waging foreign war. Americans hope that by attacking their perceived enemies now, they can create a peace that lasts. Remember that the original impetus behind all this violence was the September-eleventh attacks; all Americans want, in the end, is to feel safe. They aren't averse to using violence to protect themselves. That the violence in this case is actually unnecessary and more likely to endanger the United States than to protect it is besides the point, since the government has already convinced the public otherwise."

At the same time as the American election, an equally divisive event was taking place in interdimensional politics. For years, the legislators of Laus, a republic in a vast equatorial rainforest that was the greatest military power in the verse of Eitli, had been accused of widespread incompetence and corruption. Nearly all belonged to a single political party, the Defenders of Freedom, which had been in power for many decades. As the interdimensional press began paying more attention to the rapidly growing country, the public heard more and more tales of the legislators' embezzlement of governmental funds and special favors to local industry, including massive deregulation. Recently passed laws that legalized a number of hard drugs and set the maximum sentence for all crimes to three years in prison were widely disapproved of. The main opposition party, the Alliance for Justice, grew very quickly in size and popularity, until everyone was sure it would win a decisive majority in the June 1998 election. In fact, election officials announced that the Defenders of Freedom had won in a landslide, even in districts where opinion polls had predicted the Alliance for Justice would take more than three-quarters of the electorate. Media investigation quickly confirmed suspicions of a stolen election, but the Defenders dismissed all accusations as "desperate mudslinging". They blocked every attempt to commence an internal investigation, and the Alliance was powerless to remedy matters. There was wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Over the following few years, popular disapproval of the Defenders, and support for the Alliance, only increased. The legislature's gross mismanagement of defense forces during the divine monster attacks, when a small army of ten-foot-tall mountain lions assaulted several cities and Laus suffered more casualties per attacker than almost any other targeted nation, didn't help matters. The election occurred just a few weeks later, as scheduled, and as the Alliance for Justice had dreaded, the Defenders of Freedom won again. There were yet more pleas for formal investigation, which were yet again dismissed out of hand. There was talk among the legislators of suspending elections indefinitely, since they seemed to be good for nothing but creating controversy.

By now, though, popular resentment had reached critical mass. The more radical members of the Alliance spun off into their own group, the Monarchists, which grew even more rapidly than the Alliance had in former years. The Monarchists were small but vocal, and for every one of its official members, there were nine citizens who secretly agreed with its principles but refused to join for fear of governmental reprisal. When the Monarchists staged peaceful protests all across the country, the Defenders met them with soldiers who cast lightning bolts first and asked questions later. The Monarchists violently struck back, and the situation quickly degenerated into a full-blown civil war. Both sides took up a "either you're with us or against us" philosophy and drafted anyone who could cast spells, forcing ordinary citizens to take a side and fight their own children and siblings to the death.

The Defenders, having many times more resources, started off the Lausi Civil War strong despite their legendary incompetence. Most interdimensional observers predicted that the Monarchists, no matter how well they fought in the guerrilla tradition, were doomed from the beginning. Their prospects suddenly brightened when Emperor Ursamor of Droydania, denouncing the crimes of the Defenders, donated tanks and helicopters to the rebels. Lloyd Waverunner, seeing "a golden opportunity to defend the principles of freedom and equality we cherish", recommended the immediate deployment of Gyeedian troops to aid the Lausi government; a bill to make it so sailed through the legislature in two days, and by November of 2004, Gyeedian soldiers were teleporting to Eitli. It didn't take very long for Droydania to send in its own army, and then the various other countries loyal to Gyeeds and Droydania pitched in with their own contributions. Teleportation allowed wars in IDC verses to escalate much more quickly than they could on Earth.

Both sides in the battle were horrified when on November 18th, just two days before Roland turned thirty-five, another host of uninvited fighters appeared: monsters. Life and Death apparently thought the stakes were high enough here to send in some of their own creations. All kinds of creatures were there: some that had taken part in the city attacks, some that had never been numerous before but Jason had seen earlier (like Gol's species), and some that appeared to be entirely new. They took sides: even though the humans largely shunned them, each species only attacked the allies of the Defenders or the Monarchists, and merely fled if those who they fought for attacked them. The humans quickly learned which monsters were their allies and which were their enemies, and chose which to attack and which to leave alone appropriately. Lloyd and Ursamor claimed vaguely that their opponents had created or were otherwise responsible for the monsters. Happy to have the assistance of some of the monsters, they claimed the ones on their side were defectors, the original creators, Frankenstein-like, having little control over their creations.

In an email to the party, Leela theorized that the gods had waited so long to create more monsters because the first wave had taken a lot of energy out of them. "Even though they're growing stronger all the time," she wrote, "creating monsters in large quantities takes a toll on their magical power. They can only make so many at a time, and when they do conjure up tens of thousands of monsters at once, as they did about thirty weeks ago, they need to rest some time before exercising their power at a comparable scale again, or they risk permanent damage to themselves."

"We can infer" said Jason to the mages "that the gods won't be making more monsters anytime soon—possibly not until the final war. I'm not thrilled at the prospect of getting mixed up in this conflict, but it looks like this will be the only chance we'll get to capture and interrogate a sapient monster."

"I… don't think we should join the Gyeeds army." said Curtis.

"We don't need to." said Jason. "We can just verseport to Eitli, and the Gyeedian army will be happy to accommodate us. We'll say we're there on our own private mission to undermine the Monarchists."

"And if by chance we end up accomplishing that," said Roland, "so much the better."

The others didn't contradict him.