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Well. That was clear enough. There were the good guys, only the good guys weren't terribly `good' with the exception of a single maverick deity with a lower-case d and a single warped personality of a schizoid trans-dimensional Artificial Intelligence Supercomputer. There were the bad guys, which seemed to be everybody else including the nominally good guys but who were even worse.

This wasn't about becoming a cop, as a cop works for the established order. I was gonna become a revolutionary.

Well all RIGHT then. Bring it on. There was something about challenging the gods themselves that tickled my fancy, which (after all) grew up in part in the various corners of Barsoom, fighting the Eddorians with my lens, using the `Force' and a light saber, always in opposition to irresistible powers that would enslave sufferin' humanity.

Unlike the various gods of Mars, though, these sounded like the real thing functionally however much they were not, in fact, God. Since God was apparently openly acknowledged to be a still higher order being by even the gods, we could even imagine ourselves to be fighting `with God on our side' and `trample out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored'. I'm not exactly a religious person, as I think most active religions (and especially their various scriptures) are obviously bullshit and inconsistent with all sorts of empirical science. However, like many physicists, I always have believed in God in precisely the same sense that I believe in the laws of physics themselves which are, after all, unprovable assertions that one ultimately has to accept on faith, faith in the law of causality itself if nothing else.

In spite of the fairly obvious risks involved I really do hate the institution of slavery, and am not all that comfortable with having servants, bound apprentices, and so on. Two of my all time favorite political/philosophical works are ``Leviathan'' by good old Hobbes and the Declaration of Independence by Tommy J. The former is stark, naked truth (that life in a state of nature is ugly, nasty, brutish and short, that we all, regardless of the form of our so-called `government', live in a state of nature); the latter asserts a glorious fiction that, if adopted, elevates the human spirit and condition - that humans have fundamental, God-given rights, and among them are Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness.

Talk about lighting a candle in the darkness, taking the crude and filthy clay of the earth and erecting a shining spire to the stars. Sorry, let my poetic side get the better of me. Back to business. I could chicken out, and either be forced to join the slavers at some point or die, or I could sign up to oppose the slavers and (probably) die. Or I could try to fight my way out of this world, to run and hide somewhere else far far away, (and die). Looked like death was inevitable, immortality treatment or not; the issue, as usual was in how I planned to live in the meantime.

``OK, lady, consider me all signed up and on board. Or do I need to take an oath or sign my name in blood somewhere? A few more questions. For one, how are you ``connected'' to DEM as you just indicated? That seems like it would be important for me to know, especially if it is somehow listening in to this conversation right now.''

She smiled, and the cave lit up, even though there was little more light now than that which filtered up from the pool, as the torch was guttering out. My eyes had gradually dark adapted, though, and I could actually see better than I could by torchlight. ``I'm so glad, Sam Foster. You are telling the truth. Now I can let you live. When we get back upstairs I'll give you the antidote.''

The antidote? Yipes. Well, she had warned me, both directly and indirectly where she said a recruitment offer was one you could not refuse. Good thing I truly was perfectly happy to be recruited.

``To answer your second question, I have an implant. It uses,'' she paused, ``optical technology and ceramic superconductors,'' she stated slowly, almost as if she were reading it off, ``and is invisible to most metal-sensing detectors. It is powered by my own body's energy. It has a directly addressable storage capacity of,'' again she paused. ``Two to the seventy-two bits of information.''

She paused for a moment. Lessee, $2^{72} \approx 4 \times 10^{21}$, divided by eight, call it 500 billion gigabytes of information. Inside that delicate `mainframe'? I was impressed. I was idly trying to figure out just how many atoms were required to store a byte, assuming a strict upper bound of centimeters on the length scale of the storage unit and how they managed optical resolution at that scale without a teensy-weensy x-ray laser, when she continued.

``Sam, most of the planes of the multiverse are reasonably solidly held by one demigod or another, for all that there are constant probings and challenges, but certain worlds in any of the planes are almost always battlegrounds of greater or lesser strategic importance. This world, in particular is a primary battlefield world between the gods and the demigod personalities and has tremendous strategic importance. It has one of the greatest densities of gates of any inhabitable world in the human-occupied segment of the multiverse because of many factors, for example its highly unusual and unlikely gravitational situation. For this reason, critical functionality of the DEM itself is physically located here. Some of those components are multifunction and are shared and protected by all the weaker demigod personalities (or more commonly by one appointed to that purpose by the others), as damage to any of these shared resources and components would affect them all, and the weak demigods are viewed as less likely to be able to leverage the power thus gained into a decisive advantage.

``Other components are dedicated to just one demigod, or one group of demigods. These are fair game for attack, and the demigods create elaborate and subtle schemes for destroying them or (better) subverting them into their own networks. Naturally, they defend their own with equally subtle schemes and alliances, using all the resources they can command on myriads of planes. However, there are strict rules to this conflict, purely utilitarian rules that all abide by. Any demigod that violated these rules would be set upon by all the rest and utterly destroyed, as has happened more than once in the past, regardless of the cost.

``These rules prevent the direct control of the human resources of this planet, for example - immortals cannot be kings, princes, or rulers. Advanced weapons of mass destruction are absolutely prohibited, including all forms of gravity-powered kinetic energy weapons, nuclear weapons, promiscuously applied biologicals or chemical agents. Anachronistic personal weapons are permitted, but their scope of application is regulated. Most of the demigods work to preserve a relatively primitive culture to minimize the long term risk to the local culture, but the shifting alliances make this difficult in the long run; few will bother to act unless their direct interests are threatened.

``So much for the strategic situation; now for the tactical, which you must know if we are to survive even a few days. The story I told you about my entrance to Mirath is essentially accurate in every detail; it simply omits the decades of work required to create my persona on the world I started from. The entire purpose of this action was to infiltrate the gate possessed by the demons on this side to determine its physical location and the strength with which it was held. Our attempts to penetrate their organization from this side have failed for hundreds of years, in part because it is nearly impossible to travel on this world to do anything like a search without dying or exposing the use of higher technology to avoid dying, which brings the agents of not just one but many demigods down upon your back so you die just the same.

``Only someone appearing in their gate following a jump from a gate belonging to one of their allies, someone appearing who was naked and weak and terrified, someone clearly devoid of any advanced technology and ignorant even of how they accomplished the jump, wouldn't be killed out of hand. Only someone whose cover on the originating world stretched seamlessly from their birth to their appearance, someone who could by careful mental preparation and some cunningly applied technology survive their drug and technology-enhanced questioning procedures, wouldn't be killed after being wrung dry of any useful piece of information.

``I, however, was so manifestly harmless - not even (at the time) immortal, as I had taken compounds that would destroy the immortality agencies at the cellular level some years earlier and had aged, and scarred, normally in the meantime - that I became a mere chattel, something to be used for pleasure for a time and then sold. They placed a tracker on me, of course - one that as far as they know is still there - and I'm certain that their demigod has monitored at least my general motions to make certain that I have not approached any sort of upload point. The tracker, of course, is equipped to deal out instant death if it receives a suitable remote signal, so they have felt safe.

``They are not safe, though, Sam Foster. My implant contains critical information that will allow my superiors, my side in this conflict, to gain a decisive advantage and to take over an entire network branch, a lobe of its extended brain, of one of our worst, in every sense of the word, opponents. I cannot upload this data by transmitting it in a wireless fashion, because it was impossible to provide me with an undetectable implanted transmitter and because any attempt to transmit on a radio that I might be able to build would be met with overwhelming force and anachronism be damned. My own demigod cannot easily find me, and even when it finds me it cannot easily upload the data as it can only be retrieved by a direct organic connection with my living body or from a direct optical connection with the implant itself in the event that I am dead.

``There are literally no steps the opponent demigod would not take to protect this node site (including the use of forbidden weapons if it is driven to it), as at the moment it is a nearly critical node, and if it loses it it might well actually ``die'', eaten alive by its own allies as they see that it is too weak to either defend itself or be of further use to them as an independent entity. Similarly, there are very few steps I would not take to safely deliver the data, including the sacrifice of my own life, as the opposing demigod is one of the worst and most evil of the lot, as is clearly evident from the nature of its primary agents.''

``Brin,'' I said grimly.

``Brin,'' she affirmed. ``He clearly suspected you of being an agent, but needed to discover what power you represented - it might have been that of an ally. Or you might have been what you turned out to be, a brand new, wet behind the ears, totally unrecruited walker between the worlds, but one of highly unusual talent and wit.''

I blushed invisibly in the twilight darkness. Aw shucks.

``Sam, you must promise me that - if you live and I do not, you will cut me open here,'' - she indicated her sternum - ``and remove the small sealed unit that is attached to the inside of my spine just beneath my diaphragm. Then leave this world, taking it with you, any way you can. There is a drop point on Mirath, but we are weak here, and it is four thousand miles away, with death lurking a hundred times over along the miles in between. Give it over to the first angel that tries to recruit you, to the first demon even (as long as it isn't the grey ones of Brin's race). Any of them will use it as we would, to their own advantage (which is to be regretted) but to the ultimate destruction of Brin's dark demigod, which is even more strongly to be desired.

I wasn't too happy at the thought of cutting Sharra open, dead or not, but she watched as I nodded my acquiescence.

``So what now, princess?'' I asked.

``Now that you know the story, you must not be taken alive - neither of us can be taken alive. I will equip you to take your own life painlessly when we return to the house above, at the same time I administer the antidote to the death that lurks within you even now. We should bend all our efforts to be as innocuous as possible while preparing to leave Sind-a-Lay. What I haven't been able to decide is whether to try to leave Mirath altogether, perhaps via your undiscovered gateway, to whatever random place it might take us, or whether to try to make it overland to the drop point. Together, suitably armed and equipped with enough gold, we might succeed in spite of the efforts that will be made to discover us and the not inconsiderable natural hazards.'' She smiled. ``You are both intelligent and a difficult man to kill, Sam Foster. And you have a heart, which makes you an easy man to love. A formidable, and quite rare, combination.''

We sat in companionable silence for a few minutes. I had a few zillion questions, of course, but they would keep. For the first time a whole lot of things made sense. Sharra could be lying, of course, or telling me only a part of the truth, but there was too much detail and too good a corroboration with events for it to be a complete fabrication. Also, either her emotions were genuine, observed over many weeks at times that I thought she was unawares, or she was the greatest she-devil since the Lady de Winter. Thus doth oxytocin release make fools of us all, but my head and my heart told me she was OK, and rare combination or not it was all I had and all I was and I'd be a bigger fool to mistrust it, especially under the circumstances.

My left hand stole over and took hers where we sat side by side, and our fingers began to play a little, teasing game as a little half smile appeared on her shadowed face. Suddenly we both moved.

I rolled to my right, cutting back towards the center, and Julie literally took somebody's feet off at the ankles. I kept rolling as they fell flat on their face screaming, their naked blade falling from their hand. Sharra had sprung straight at the wall and hence evaded a thrust directly into her back. I made it up to my knees as a third figure's head emerged from the pool, followed by a blade held on guard by an arm as its owner felt their way up the slippery rocks to the cave's floor.

Sharra had twisted off the wall to her left while her opponent's blade struck sparks at a spot that would have been her heart a split second earlier. A dark score appeared on her ribs on the right side where blood welled up in the gash cut by the near miss. A red mist appeared in my vision as I staggered to my feet, my blade held ready to dismember anybody that would dare to cut her perfect body.

Before I could move Sharra executed an absolutely perfect kick that caught her opponent square in the throat beneath his chin and lifted him almost off of his feet to splash backwards into the pool, where he landed on top of a fourth emerging head. Fine. Note to self, Sharra is perfect master of martial arts and can take pretty good care of herself. Of course she is, dodobrain.

Not feeling terribly chivalrous at the moment (with my natural give-a-sucker-an-even-break impulses somewhat tempered by the sneak attack, the cut on Sharra's side, and the convoluted political mess I was apparently smack in the middle of) I stepped forward to the edge of the pool, feinted, and as my opponent's foot slipped a tiny bit on the unsteady rocks beneath his feet I cut his head off. Yup, same fountain of blood as last time, but most of it fell back into the pool with the two separate parts of his body.

I bent to the right and simultaneously administered a coup de grace to the footloose soul squirming there and flipped his blade, handle first, over to Sharra. We now had a considerable advantage. Our eyes were fully dark-adapted while our opponents were coming into the darkness from the light. We held the higher, stable ground while they had to come up a slippery slope with lots of loose rocks and irregular protrusion that they could not see. We were both seriously good with blades (note that I did not for a minute assume that Sharra wasn't a world class swordswoman if pushed to it - give me a few hundred years to practice and see what I do, although it is true that some of the skill with a sword is natural aptitude and beyond the ability to teach or learn through just practice).

We slaughtered them, one after another, as they came through the hole. Ten of them. It was, quite literally, a bloodbath. Even we could hardly see in the darkness at the end, as the pool was no longer even close to translucent. God knows what made them keep coming through the tunnel at the end, as the blood had to be welling backwards into the river in a huge slick, attracting a whole lot of very nasty and toothy wildlife in the process. Did I mention the thirty foot crocs and the piranha-like fish that frequented the brackish waters of of the river? No? Must have slipped my mind. Must have slipped theirs, too, as the last person was jerked back underwater, screaming, even before he came within range of our blades, and it suddenly it was over.

I had brought a small pouch with a lighter in it along with me, and we managed to light the remaining torch in spite of the water and blood that had dripped or splashed on it during the melee. By its light we surveyed, for a moment, the human wreckage in the witch's cauldron in front of us, some of it still, for the moment, alive. Then, slowly, the water began to boil as silvery forms darted among the severed limbs and torsos, and the one or two living bodies kind of gave a sigh and subsided, slowly, into the water. It appeared to be a good time to leave, before something showed up with leathery scales too thick for our small swords to penetrate and a disappointed appetite. I don't really like tackling gigantic carnivores armed with a metaphorical toothpick, however often unexpected events seem to force me to do so.

We turned and made our way back up the dark tunnel and into the cellar, Sharra refusing my attempts to support her even as her blood continued to ooze down her naked side.

In the cellar we locked and tried to jam the entrance to the tunnel with a couple of extra blades we'd recovered from the edge of the pool (at a minor risk of losing our fingers). Then we paused just long enough to quickly bathe in the cold water running from the end of the supply pipe I'd rigged in the bath-room, taking turns with the other standing guard. Sharra then permitted me to jury rig a kind of a bandage make out of ripped up towel cloth, we put our clothes back on, and we made our way back upstairs as if nothing had happened, to a casual observer who didn't note that Sharra walked a bit stiffly and had somehow acquired a naked sword in her right hand or that my hands remained as close to the hilts of my own as I could manage.

Upstairs, there was absolutely nothing amiss. Dojo appeared, as he always does, when I came out of the cellar door and disappeared to fetch wine and my medical kit without so much as a word when so directed. There was no rush of attack, no smell of blood, no indication that the house had been compromised. I concluded that this was a sneak attack, possibly intended to be coordinated with an outside attack if it succeeded but now destined to fail. While Sharra went on into our bedroom, I went over and whacked the door-keeper awake, directed one of the lounging guards to fetch his fellows from their quarters, chop chop, and remained with the other, naked swords in hand, until they showed up. I put all of them on alert, sent one of them outside to flag down some of Rendar's men, some of whom thereafter formed an outer guard (I wasn't about to let anyone inside I didn't know personally) and others of whom went to fetch Rendar himself with reinforcements.

In the meantime, I went back to Sharra. She had extracted her plan, and had laid out three tiny capsules, each of a different color. One she herself took - I recognized it as an immortality virus capsule. A second she pushed towards me to take. I complied, hoping that it was the promised antidote to whatever slow-acting poison she'd slipped me with breakfast. The third she placed into a small steel pendant on a masculine-looking chain, which she then hung around my neck.

``There, my hero,'' she whispered, speaking once again in Ushti, with her lips brushing against my ears. ``I can die by literally willing it to be, but you cannot. The contents of this capsule, placed on any part of your skin inside or outside, will produce nearly instantaneous and painless death. Guard it well.'' Then she kissed me, and sagged back into my arms in a faint.

I laid her out on the bed and opened up her shirt, to expose the blood already starting to ooze through the makeshift bandage beneath. Dojo arrived with my kit, which I now kept well hidden in the cellar to prevent a repetition of the Tylenol incident. While I prepared a needle and some thread (using the remnants of the brandy mixed with betadyne to sterilize it) Sharra came back awake.

``Sam,'' she gasped out. ``I cannot continue to block so much pain, but I will now become fully unconscious. I will awaken only when you tell me to `wake up' or in twenty four hours, whichever comes first. The key words are `wake up Sharra'. Do what you can to stitch me up, but realize - if we are attacked and you must flee, you cannot leave me alive and you must take that which you must take. Do you understand?''

``There is no attack, sweetheart, and I've already roused the troops. By now there are twenty men on alert outside, and in ten minutes there will be fifty. I don't think that the bad guys will react that fast. First, they could have been mere pirates, who we know are aware of the cave from the history of the place, who may have been taking a chance at making off with a chunk of the huge fortune that everybody knows is stored somewhere in this house, most likely the cellar where they could be in and out before even a wizard like myself was aware of them.

Even if it was an attack directed by the other side, it was obviously intended to be a conventional attack, a probing attack, by mercenaries alone or we'd have seen at least one of the grey monks, or demons, or whatever you want to call them, probably equipped with bracelets like Brin's, and we'd already be dead because there is no way we could have handled that naked and armed with just one blade between the two of us. So they must still be holding off, waiting to learn what they can of just who we are and what we can do. After all, they cannot be certain that we couldn't take out an entire troop of them as easily as we apparently took out Brin himself, and I'll wager that immortal demons don't like risking their immortal lives.''

``So go on to sleep. I'll stitch you up and hold the fort while you recuperate. I think I've got a pretty good idea of how to proceed at this point. Only one question - do you need an antibiotic and if so, do you have one I should use or should I try an Earth-style antibiotic?''

``No, the capsule I took will manage all of that for me. I actually started taking a full course more than a week ago - I'm on my last two doses, so these nasty scars from where they whipped me as a slave should disappear, as should this wound given time, Sam Foster. Try to give me that time.'' With this she fell back onto the pillow, closed her eyes and with a sigh, went completely limp.

I took off the bandage and cleaned the gash out as best I could with brandy, boiled water, and betadyne. It wasn't as bad as it had looked or I had feared - the fool naturally attacked with his sword's edge, which cut across her ribs and notched a couple of them but didn't break any or cut through into the lungs underneath. The end of the cut, presumably stopped by the contact of the sword's point with the wall, ended just above the muscles of her belly and diaphragm, so her peritoneal cavity was intact. Bloody, painful, but (with stitches and antibiotics and protection from shock) definitely not life threatening.

The cut was quite clean and with Sharra unconscious it was a simple matter to stitch the two edges of skin back together, although I'm certain any third-year medical student back on Earth could have done a neater job of it. With me it was more like mending a shirt, feeling squeamish every time I had to push the needle through the living skin. Finally it was done and I spent ten minutes or so dabbing up the oozing blood until she started to clot and the ooze ran clear, at which point I slavered it all with neosporin on general principles and covered it with a light, clean, bandage. Finally I covered her up on top of the now-ruined sheets and went out into the courtyard.

Rendar was there with a handful of guards, grilling Dojo on what was going on. When he saw me emerge with bloody sleeves and a grim expression, he left off and approached. I waved him over to one of the courtyard tables and sent two of his bravos to stand in front of my door (where I could see them, as I didn't trust anybody I didn't ``know'' at this point as I already noted) and sent Dojo to fetch wine and viands and Mikal, to send for Willet in his shop (not taking no for an answer) and to return with all of the above himself.

Thirty minutes later, I had all of them, even Dojo (looking very uncomfortable) seated with me at the table with a goblet of wine in hand and smoked eyeballs and other such delicacies (just kidding) in front of them. I had figured out just how to approach it.

``OK,'' I began (a term I used straight from English which was very rapidly becoming a part of Ushtian). ``Who here belongs to a church?'' No hands went up, heads shook. ``Anybody here believe strongly in any particular named deity?'' Again, no.

``Great,'' I said. ``Prepare to listen to the damnedest tale you ever heard about how the Universe is really put together...''

It was evening before the tale was all done. I left out only one itty-bitty part - anything whatsoever that fingered Sharra as being anything other than what the rest of them thought that she was, a pretty but stubborn ex-slave that I was fond of and probably laying. I simply promoted myself to the status of immortal angel supercop, who was, for reasons beyond their ken but associated with the generally obvious nasty evil demonhood of Brin and his brother demons, on the side of goodness and light and human freedom and dignity and against the evil nasty demons, human and otherwise, who threatened it.

There was just enough truth mixed in with the fiction that it explained everything, most of it correctly. I was greatly aided by the fact that whether or not they believed my particular explanation of the war between the gods and demigods (not confusing them too much with the multiverse part of all of that or the technology associated with the demigod part), they already knew that magic was real, that demons existed, that the gods played with men as nasty children play with flies (pulling off their wings and eventually frying them underneath a magnifying glass, for example). I was just giving them the inside poop on the particular inner life of the deities, not telling them anything they hadn't already guessed was true.

Suddenly, instead of four minions who would do what I told them ``because'' (due to loyalty, because I paid them, out of fear) I had four friends united by a common cause. I told them up front that I had come to set them all free, not only from the gods but even from each other, from all of the bloody tyrants of this or any other world. By the end we all pledged ``our life, our fortune, and our sacred honor'' to the task of freeing the people of Mirath, a task that had to be carried out inexorably but in utter secrecy.

I spent the rest of the night giving them very explicit instructions and explaining why they needed to follow them carefully and either hide their tracks or find perfectly reasonable explanations for why they were being done in the normal course of Sind-a-Lay events.

Willet was charged with banking, and took complete charge of the bulk of my fortune. He had the idea of banking down, now, and understood how banking could create new wealth when used appropriately that vastly exceeded the mere `money' one made by practicing usury and extortion at the expense of the workers that made the things and performed the services that were actually worth money. I'd also explained paper money to him, suggesting it as an early and productive use of the printing press that was under development. I suggested that he put the gold and jewels in a deep, well-guarded safe and start to pay for things with promises that represented part of the gold, a process that would inevitably lead to the introduction of representative currency with a life of its own.

Mikal I left in charge of technological development and nurturing the various industries I'd started by passing on information that would help them. To do this, I explained, he'd have to finish teaching himself to read and write English (he was up to about the first or second grade level, which is just enough), and directed him to Brand and Arto for access to my books and references. I also gave him as his immediate charge continuing the school, telling him to teach himself, then teach the teachers, then help as they taught the students.

Dojo I left in charge of the people, as he was a past master in running things and managing people. He had simply expanded as the evening had progressed, being treated as not only an equal but as a friend and co-conspirator where for his entire life he'd thought of himself as a superior sort but was forced to work for higher-caste people who treated him like the low-caste dirt he was - to them. His fear of me hadn't exactly lessened, of course (and would help hold him on the honest course) but I was asking him to help without threats and asking his opinions on what we might do as if I cared. I told him to fetch the magistrate first thing in the morning so I could free the last batch of slaves I'd bought, and then asked him what we should do with them (that didn't involve putting them on the street to starve and that would take care of the smaller children).

He obliged by working out a plan on the spot for inserting the adults and older children into the various enterprises we controlled, and moving the younger ones right into the quarters of the household staff, to be ``adopted'' by the household at large. They could attend the school on the premises. He then proceeded to expound on ways of better managing the labor of all of our enterprises. Quite a deep river beneath those still waters. Even Rendar, the most cynical of the lot, was goggle-eyed by the end of it all.

To Rendar I gave the most difficult and delicate charge of all - that of protecting everything as it developed. I also put him in charge of the political revolution side of things. Rendar was, of course, almost as rich as I was at that moment - he hadn't stinted in his share out of Brin's accumulation, for all that he had given me the lion's share of his own free will. He was participating to some extent in the ``banking'' experiment but he didn't really understand it.

So we ended with me giving a mini-sermon to all of them, but primarily Rendar, on the importance of law and order and political stability to development. People like Greeble, for example (I pointed out) were a direct risk to everything we were trying to do. Easily bribed, easily bought, inured to violence, rape, robbery, murder in all its many forms, they were the natural tools of the oppressors. I also pointed out that even as we purchased slaves here who were kidnapped and captured elsewhere, those same mercenaries and pirates kidnapped people here to sell at the other end. They made money going both ways.

How many people disappeared every year from Sind-a-Lay? Where did they go to? What a convenient way to dispose of political opponents, business competition, even somebody who stood in the way of a love affair. We needed (I declaimed) to put a stop to ``crime'' in the most general sense of the term, not try to exploit it or tolerate it, because to do so was to encourage it, and sooner or later it would turn around and bite us. I left it up to Rendar's judgement how much and how fast he would try to squeeze down the merely economic crimes like smuggling (of goods, not people), but suggested strongly that he crack down on rape, robbery, and murder, and that he arrange for the truly incorrigible and evil souls of the city (such as Greeble) to `disappear' permanently, and squelch any attempt by new entrepreneurs to restart the really revolting and corrupt businesses they currently ran.

Rendar looked thoughtful, by the end of it all. I meant him to. He'd pledged personal loyalty to me (something I knew better than to push too far but which was one force acting on him to comply). He also had suffered personally from the crimes of Brin, and could see how it was nearly impossible to tolerate vice but also control it so that he personally never got hurt, let alone his friends and their relatives and complete strangers that he didn't know but relied upon for the bread they baked, the sausage they stuffed, the armor they pounded out. Finally, he saw in it, as I intended he should, the opportunity for personal advancement. Come the revolution, leadership would change. Therein lay opportunity, but I really wanted to develop the concept of leadership with responsibility and not just the power to do as one liked in all things no matter how they hurt others.

As the morning dawned, I left them all with that. I had sent for Brand as well, and he had showed up in the early evening with Arto in tow, and although I was exhausted I spent an extra hour or two with them alone making further arrangements for certain items from my stash to be delivered to me the next day, and giving them separate charges of their own. Finally, I went in, changed Sharra's bandage, lay down next to her still-comatose form, and went to sleep.

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Robert G. Brown 2007-12-29