CHAPTER 18: Fact-finding
Once again they landed in their glade – there was something reassuring about having a familiar spot, even if it was one where they had only spent such a short time previously.
‘Are they all absolutely mad?’ Hugh burst out. ‘This is the most dreadful, awful, terrible thing I have ever heard of. Did I get it wrong, or are they planning to wipe out all the human race plus any Daoine who don’t happen to agree with them?’
‘Not mad; just men,’ Tye said viciously. ‘Males, I mean. This is just typical of them.’
‘Oh, come on; be reasonab…’ Hugh started, but she cut in, working herself up to a frenzy.
‘Look at The Rings,’ she said. ‘Ruled by queens, and what do you find? Peace and harmony. Lots of different creatures all getting along fine with one another. Then look at the mess here. A king in charge, and wretched males who have a low opinion of women … females … whatever … running around all bent on murder and destruction. I suppose it wouldn’t take much to have you two doing exactly the same thing.’
‘Not clever way you see it,’ Dengana said in an offended tone.
‘Incredibly stupid, in fact,’ Hugh agreed. ‘How can you suddenly work out that because they are like tha…’
He stopped, because there was no Tye there to talk to any more. Pip had suddenly popped into appearance next to her and snarled at them, after which she and the sprite had flown to the other side of the glade to nurse their fury.
After some minutes had elapsed, Hugh said, ‘Oh, this is ridiculous!’ and flew after her.
‘Look,’ he told her bluntly. ‘Your anti-male tantrums aren’t getting us anywhere. We quite desperately need to work together to try and figure out what to do to stop all this. Or, just, what to do next.’
Dengana spoke up strongly. ‘We not know enough, yet. Need find out more. Like why they do this thing?’
Hugh blinked. ‘You’re right, I suppose,’ he said, ‘but how can we find out any more? You saw the way I got looked at whenever I started to ask what to them seemed stupid questions.’
Tye stopped scowling and looked thoughtful. ‘There could be a way,’ she said, and then did quite a lot of explaining.
Not long after, the three visible and one invisible members of their party were again flying into the valley. This time, they targeted a slightly more imposing dome in the centre of the largest group. ‘That’ll be the big cheese,’ Hugh said. ‘It always turns out that when there is a culture of everyone being equal, some are more equal than others.’
’Animal Farm; book of George Orwell,’ nodded Dengana, as another example that the farm school he attended was rather good - or at least thorough in its coverage of farming topics.
They landed with their drabbest drab appearances, and all three as Higher. Hugh was ready to jump to Highest in need, but when the flustered Darxds they met on landing had taken them to what they called the Sector Commander it turned out to be a Higher Prince, so that would be good enough for now.
After all three of them had rapped out a chorus of ‘Triumph the Cause!’ and received responses, Dengana jumped right in with, ’We are here on most important mission, Higher Prince …?
‘Dennet,’ but what …’
‘…Higher Prince Dennet,’ continued Dengana, ‘which you will be able to learn if you get together good mix of all ranks for us to talk to.’
Hugh immediately followed with his prepared speech, ‘From a fruitful discussion with Prince Dore and some of his Darxds, we believe that we can have confidence in taking our mission to this next stage. About thirty will do. Is there a large enough space in here? Ah, good. Ideal.’
A bewildered Dennet followed him into the dome, which in fact had a handy section at one side set up with seats facing a small stage. The three moved onto the stage, and stood waiting there with an air of expectation.
Dennet quickly called out a series of names and ordered some of those called to fetch others. Soon there were exactly thirty seated in the ‘audience’.
‘Good,’ nodded Hugh. ‘To start with, you must accept that we are not going to introduce ourselves due to the confidential nature of this test, but you may be sure that we come from … extremely high circles. You will have noted our youth, which is another quite clever aspect of the confidentiality. You will ensure that nothing of these proceedings – not the slightest word - will pass to anyone until sanctioned.’ He worded it as a statement rather than as a question, and everyone muttered assent, looking stunned.
‘Now,’ said Dengana, ‘we ask questions as if we know nothing. You must answer in way you would for explaining to someone who come from outside.’
‘Your answers will enable us to report back on the suitability of this Sector to take a certain leading role in what is to come,’ Hugh continued as smoothly as a football player taking a pass and carrying the ball forward.
‘Firstly,’ Tye spoke for the first time and everyone jumped, ‘can anybody tell us why I am here?’ There was a hush punctuated only by some nervous foot-shuffling and wiggling.
‘Higher Prince Dennet;’ she said, looking straight at him, ‘perhaps you can answer?’
Dennet stuttered for a few seconds, and then said, ‘I must confess that I simply do not know. I am surprised, and, to be quite frank, a little shocked.’
‘And why is that?’ Hugh asked.
‘Because, as you know …’
Hugh cut him off abruptly. ‘No, I don’t; remember?’
Dennet looked acutely uncomfortable. ‘Yes; sorry. Well, because in the best interests of the Cause it is known that the roles of women and girls …’ Hugh was relieved to note that Darxem used terms which came across as those, ‘… must be to bear and take care of the young, and to bring them to the stage of being trained as true followers of His Greatestness.’
‘It was always like this?’ Dengana put in.
‘No; previously we had allowed them some duties outside of those vital responsibilities, but the Cause demands …’
‘Who has told you this interpretation of the Cause?’ Tye snapped.
At that, Dennet became more assured. ‘It has been passed down from His Highest Majesty King Darrex himself, through the Highest Princes, and is undoubted.’
‘How accurately was it passed?’ Hugh asked.
Dennet squirmed a little, and when he spoke his tone was less confident than his words. ‘I’m sure that we know perfectly well what is intended. It has been repeated time and again.’
‘You not think maybe women needed for other things?’ Dengana came in. The strategy they had decided upon of switching from one to the other seemed to be working well in keeping their audience rattled, and Hugh found himself thinking how good they were becoming at it.
‘N-not really; that is I don’t know of anything … I mean …’
This was Tye’s cue. ‘For example,’ she said, have you noticed that your wasp crecords have more difficulty in controlling them than do the ones for most of the other creatures?’
One of the others spoke up. ‘Yes; I do wasps, but it is known that they are just more difficult, is all.’
‘You don’t think it might have something to do with how close they are to the spiders?’ Tye said, hoping for a particular answer. She got it.
‘No, they are kept well fed with foods best suited to each species,’ said the same one.
‘So,’ snapped Tye, ‘it takes a woman or a girl to know that the wasps want the spiders not to feed upon, but so that they can sting them, lay eggs on them, and bury them?’
After leaving a few seconds for this to drive home, Hugh pointed at one near the back. ‘Tell me what the Cause is,’ he said.
His victim put on a goldfish imitation for a while until he noticed that his Higher Prince was glaring at him. Then he blurted, ‘Well, you know …’
Hugh lifted a hand, and he tailed off, glancing fearfully at an even worse Dennet glare. ‘Take your time,’ Hugh invited.
Taking a deep breath, he began, ‘It is our destiny, as foretold in the lines of time …’
‘But provided we are resolute in our actions and do all that is needed,’ put in a Darxd next to him.
‘… to assume our proper place as the rulers of Terra and all Breena lands as well as Darx Circle. All must be brought to follow His Highest Majesty under the guidance of His Greatestness.’
The other chipped in again, in a sing-song voice as if reciting, ’All self must be subdued;
with highest aims imbued;
for all must work towards the whole,
and never seek a separate role.’
It was Dengana’s turn. ‘Those who not agree?’ he said, pointing this time at a front-rower.
‘Must undergo whatever is needed to persuade them. If, after that, there are still signs of selfish behaviour or not enough commitment to the Cause, then they must be done away with,’ he said matter-of-factly. ‘When there is time for recreation for us, we have found many ways of doing the “doing away with” in entertaining ways.’
‘What about humans?’ Tye asked of another, managing with a great effort to hide her horror and contempt, particularly as she saw expressions of evil anticipation on the faces of all the others at the very mention.
‘We will reclaim the fatherland for Darx, and the vermin there must all be exterminated,’ was the prompt reply. ‘That will give a great deal of opportunity for entertainment.’
Fighting his own sick feeling which had been growing steadily since they started the questioning, Hugh probed, ‘You know from Interfaces and the Rift that the human world is quite different and not to the tastes of Darxem. So why is it needed?’
‘We have come from Terra in original times,’ Higher Prince Dennet chipped in, ‘when it was as Darx now appears. His Greatestness will then use his magic to restore the proper atmosphere to make it like Darx on that different plane once again.’
‘You believe true he can do that?’ Dengana asked, and for a second it seemed that he might have gone too far. Then Dennet barked, ‘You really are testing us. I happen to be one of those who had the honour to have seen for myself the conversion done in a small sector beyond the Interface, as a demonstration to any who might have doubted.’
‘How many are there as committed as all of you are?’ was Hugh’s next question, which he directed at one with clothing perhaps a trifle less dingy-looking than the rest.
‘All of us at the Rifts are those considered most loyal to The Cause,’ he responded, a bit uneasily. ‘Many groups of us with equal understanding are also ensuring that it is spread to others as quickly as possible.’
‘What about the Daoine who were here when the Interfaces to the Rings were closed? Are they having understanding spread to them?’
The unease deepened. ‘That will not be attempted,’ he said. They have all been put into a warded area near Darrex Palace for a decision on whether to send them back to the Rings once we have control, or to do away with them.’
Hugh could see that Dennet had a deepening scowl, and thought he’d better leave it there, but Tye now jumped in.
‘Are there any areas of active resistance?’ she asked the one Hugh had been questioning.
At this Dennet exploded. ‘Do not answer!’ he snarled. ‘This – Higher Princess –’ (he put a wealth of contempt and loathing into the title) ‘is trying to trap you into saying the Unmentionable!’ Then he swung on Hugh. ‘I have the right to demand, as your elder and equal in rank, that you control this girl you have brought with you. This is not tolerable. I cannot …’
Hugh said calmly, ‘We have the authority to do whatever we please, and it would be as well for you to keep that in mind. However, this was an extreme test, I admit, to which the response has been what we would have expected. I believe that we have now learnt enough for the necessary judgments to be made, and you will need some patience before the outcome will become clear to you. Thank you for your participation. We shall now leave.’
He could tell that Tye was in a blazing temper, and about to push their luck too far by saying more. Grabbing her arm, he murmured in her ear, ‘Shut up, and let’s scram while the scramming’s good.’ Then he virtually dragged her out of the dome.
The relief of safely reaching their glade for the third time was the greatest yet.
This time they didn’t stop, though, but kept going.