His Magnificence

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Jesse and Sarah timidly followed Danny. As they entered near-blackness, the collective stench of the pryvies, garbage, and other assorted rancid items had dissipated. The only illumination came from a green fluorescent light beaming toward what appeared to be a large brown tarp descending from the void above.

The tent they entered may as well have been a storage shed. Stacks of boxes hugged the left and right perimeter. Two military cots were next to one another in the back.

In between the bunks was a large cardboard box. Danny opened it and produced a beige rug, then rolled it out in front of the cots and invited Jesse and Sarah to sit.

As they did so, Danny extracted one more item from the box, one that shocked Jesse. “Is that a Joshuan Diaries copy?!”

Danny nodded, then sat Indian style on the carpet.

“Why did you let us go?!” Sarah asked.

Danny removed his glasses, wiped his eyes, then shot Sarah a dagger-like look. “Why would nine-percenters like you choose to stop His Magnificence? You have everything you could ever want!”

 “Because we know what he’s really up to,” Sarah replied.

 “Based on what?” Danny inquired.

 “Projectdriht.link. I contribute to it.”

 Danny’s jaw dropped. “And you’re still alive?! If me or anyone else had gotten caught doing that, a third violation is the least of our worries.”

 “It’s an anonymous site,” Jesse chimed in, “and you-know-who just dismisses it as hearsay and allows it to exist to support this illusion of freedom.”

 “The underground colonies were the ost popular rumor,” Sarah said. “The other day, we attempted to locate one in Manhattan, but two DCF agents accosted us at laserpoint. Why would they be so protective of a former subway station?”

 “Because their presence is increasing,” Danny responded, eliciting a perplexed reaction from Jesse and Sarah.

 “Building?!” Jesse asked.

 “Yes,” Danny replied.

 “How long have you and your people been down here?” Sarah asked.

 “We began our migration from Manhattan two weeks ago,” Danny countered. “As you can see, we’re still decorating.”

 “If the DCF expanded its presence, how did you escape to Newark undetected?” Jesse asked.

 “It was a proactive decision,” Danny said. “About a month ago, in our old colony in Soho, four agents, armed with simple laser pistols, began patrolling former subway entrances near us. Two weeks later, it became twenty.” Danny’s tone turned incensed. “And one day, they entered our territory and held as at laserpoint, and didn’t even give a reason. A couple of our guys attempted to confront the agents, who shot them dead.”

 Jesse and Sarah looked at each other in disbelief.

 “After that, they asked a very unusual query: did we support Francis Stewart?”

 “Wait, excuse me?!” Jesse snapped.

 “No way!” Sarah exclaimed.

 “Ask anyone here,” Danny said. “They’ll confirm it. If I remember correctly, no one said yes. After that, an agent fired warning shots coercing us to answer their question. They killed the one that said no. Immediately after they left, the decision was made to migrate across the river.”

 “Here’s one thing I don’t understand,” Sarah said. “Do DCF agents not allow you to go to street level for food or to seek employment? If not, how could you possibly have pulled off this migration without being caught?”

 “They’ve always let us come and go as we please, at least until after that confrontation. The only reason sewer colonies like these have sprung up in the past year-plus is because there’s no more room in the parks of the big cities anymore. Did you know the pryvie population has tripled during that time? Sewers and abandoned railway tunnels such as this one are our last source of shelter.”

 “How did you become the leader of this colony?” Sarah asked.

 “Well,” Danny replied while furrowing his hair, “a combination of good and bad luck.” He took a deep breath and rubbed his eyes underneath his glasses. Jesse and Sarah continued to focus on his every word and gesture. “Believe it or not, I was once a nine-percenter.”

 “No! No way!” Jesse shouted, throwing his arms in the air.

 “Jesse, please listen to him,” Sarah pled.

 “I understand if you don’t believe me,” Danny replied. “But, have you heard of the pryvie faction known as the Twelves?”

 “No, what are those?!” Jesse asked with a hint of frustration in his tone.

 “I became a pryvie because of the repeal of the 12th.”

 Sarah gasped. “The repeal of universal healthcare?!”

 “Yes,” Danny quivered, then sighed. “A week after the repeal, my father was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Of course, because he no longer was covered by insurance, he and my family went broke paying for his medical expenses. He died six months after diagnosis.”

 Jesse’s jaw dropped. His attitude suddenly changed from sardonic to empathetic, finally finding something he could relate to Danny with. “Oh my God… my mom had a rare cancer, too. And, man… I’m so sorry… I feel horrible that you…”

 “Don’t feel bad for me,” Danny interrupted.

 Sarah’s eyes watered. “Danny… I can’t imagine…”

 Danny waved Sarah away as she attempted to lean in for an embrace. “Again, it’s okay. Honestly, it’s why I keep the Joshuan diaries by my side. I turn to it for inspiration when I really feel down. Anyway, by the time they evicted us from our Upper West Side pad, all so Stewart and his cronies can line their pockets. Of course, Central Park was filled. So, me, my mother, and my brother moved to one of the first sewer colonies, near the Rockefeller grounds. She and my brother died six months ago in an accident in that colony, and I ended up moving here to start my own colony. Most of us are Twelves, but others are those not yet brainwashed by you-know-who.”

 Jesse leaned forward and studied Danny’s expression. “Danny… do you think it’s coincidence that your father and my mother died of a similar cancer? And coupled with the Twelfth repeal, would you agree that expanding the poverty line was… planned?”

 “I have no idea,” Danny whispered. “But I will say that it truly is no coincidence that the DCF presence increased so close to the New Alaska attack. You wouldn’t want to know what some agents casually remarked to our people during the interrogations. What you two have read on the Project… is just the beginning.”

Jesse creased his eyebrows downward and leaned closer. “Danny,” he grumbled, “what are they planning?!”

 Danny scowled, huffed, then looked both Sarah and Jesse in their eye. “I have no concrete proof, but I’ll put it this way: you’d better be on His Magnificence’s side when he declares armed conflict on New Alaska. If you’re not, good luck. You’re going to need it.”

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