Buffet Breakfast recap: February (Act 2)


Transformation and other metaphysical matters had always been a mystery to John. They were something he’d wondered about a lot back when he was a little kid, and for that matter, something he still wondered about from time to time. Did magic exist? Was it really possible to manifest one’s “true colours” in one’s appearance and abilities as was often done in movies and TV shows? And could one truly modify reality with pure subjective will as the General had suggested when she’d snapped earlier? That was something he was really starting to wonder about. After all, if she could see stuff through spreadsheets, could there be crazier abilities out there waiting to be discovered?

John mentally slapped himself, realising that these were unbelievably silly matters for an important bureaucrat to be thinking about. After all, as the General had just recently told him, many young Tibetans were now having to live in poorly-built refugee camps and get their meals from chow tents (at the time, John had made a somewhat joking suggestion that they could rise up and become the Children Khan, but the General had found that idea rather stupid, later telling her cohort at the mess table that even its name “could only have come from someone with John’s kind of madness”, particularly since the word khan was Mongolian rather than Tibetan). And over in southeast Africa, the Tabacs had transformed their country from peaceful to tumultuous under their elusive yet brutal leader, Olivia the Cat. With the world getting more chaotic by the minute, it was about time he got back to working on those cases all his various agents and allies had relayed to him again, particularly with dangerous people like Isaac and Jade on the loose.

As John was working diligently trying to sort out not only all the cases that had piled up on his desk but now these unstable African and Asian regimes, the General messaged him to ask for advice. John facetiously recommended she simply hunt down Isaac and kill him herself, but as the General reminded him, that was preposterous given that no one knew where Isaac was. And besides, there was a new problem emerging just outside the province of Oritiqu that might well be much more important than Isaac: some kind of popular wood-harvesting system from that region was inexplicably becoming known across a much greater area of the world all of a sudden. It was highly possible that the name of the system was actually becoming a code word for something else, though Rose knew not what, and Russia’s unexpected paranoia about this seemed like a bad omen. There was also an incident involving hostages in which it seemed some weren’t going to be returned.

John really had no good advice on any of this, and was frankly a little clueless on why the one with the magic spreadsheets was asking him the questions. The General, however, reminded him that there were some matters her spreadsheets were absolutely no help on, and she couldn’t just “think in violet”—although she did have some control over her abilities, she didn’t have quite that much. She really wished John would grow up a little and stop oversimplifying everything; if he was actually doing his job, shouldn’t he have at least some idea of what was going on? She didn’t know exactly what country or star system he was in right now, she told him, but if it wasn’t too much trouble, she’d like him to come back to the United States.

John at first merely disregarded these harsh criticisms, just like always. However, over the next three days, he began to realise more and more that she might be right, and soon went into turbo mode working on his cases to redeem himself. There was no way he was going back to his old days as a low-level nobody who never got any recognition, and given that the General was similarly busting her behind over protecting the Western world from horrific terror plots, there was really no excuse for laziness on his part. He could not afford to disappoint the General and the entire free world simply for the sake of his own selfishness.

Three days later, the General spontaneously found John passed out on his balcony. This completely baffled her—she had no idea how it could have happened, and although she’d remembered seeing the same balcony in purple on the previous day, she hadn’t really realised what the significance of it was. Concerned, she immediately called up one of his secretaries to ask if this was the end of him.

Thankfully, it wasn’t. No, John was actually quite alive and okay, the subordinate explained, and was in fact just suffering from a brief bout of swine flu. But the good news was that he’d established that the six Faliniyabin had absolutely nothing to do with the conspiracy, the second report could be withdrawn, and many other things, so she had nothing to worry about.

General Lalonde disagreed. The instant she got a chance to talk to John directly, she didn’t hesitate to tell him all about how he’d kept her on tenterhooks into the early morning, and how this little incident had almost cost the European Union an important peninsula. Yes, she was aware of how much he’d accomplished, but she was in no mood to talk about the many old characters involved in the conspiracy and the many questions he had right now—right now she wanted to talk about the problem of her anxiety. She didn’t know what kind of sharp ideas he’d been trying that might have lead to this, but whatever he’d done, he was never to do it ever again for the sake of both his own well-being and the well-being of the entire United States and European Union. What was more, he was to stop working immediately and start resting as soon as possible. These were his orders.

When John saw this, he almost laughed at the irony of it. All right, he agreed, he’d get to kicking back and not accomplishing anything as soon as humanly possible, if that was what she wanted. What came next was all up to her.

Years later in Egypt, in the midst of crushing desert heat and stagnant air—and in unspeakably horrible conditions—the River led an effort to dig a great canal between Kroxtrodir, Alchimitir, and the port of Totem. He had three types of drilling machines and maps, including a countdown-style device, a device developed in Kroxtrodir (which hundreds had written theses on to prove it was the same as the former, but the River still stubbornly refused to believe that), and Wekobler equipment (something one could only get by having good connections). Among his maps were a structural tree, a document allocating rations, and one detailing how to perform a particular integrity test (something one should always give just to be safe lest he receive a list of the two Prijedor eyes as punishment). Overall, this was an operation much more concerned with quality than quantity—as the River’s boss Snow had told him, even if the team made so little progress that the remaining distance seemed even more impressive at the end of the day than it had been at the start, it was okay as long as that progress was solid.

Why exactly they were building this canal was largely ambiguous. However, it seemed to have something to do with the four elements, the ancient art of Kortadas, the teachings of coffee-related historical analysis, “creating the value of the evidence”, and “setting the mechanism that contains information”. (In some ways, the project often gave off an odd vibe that it might really just be a giant piece of propaganda.) Even the River himself had suspicions about it, particularly as far as that shifty town of Kroxtrodir was concerned (in his opinion, it was little more than a good place to buy beer), and that dirty business that was going on in China with the Sosid switch on the side. Nevertheless, he strongly suspected the project would be important to a number of people some day, so in spite of his reservations, he pushed on with it.

Back in the present, the General was looking down into the Valley of Fire, still thinking about her last conversation with John. Unable to keep from wondering if his illness was difficult, she’d given in and contacted him once more, ostensibly to ask about how his cases were going. John found it rather odd that she wanted to talk to him about politics all of a sudden when she’d just told him to rest, but, all right, if she really wanted to know, there was a Navy General in Bosnia and Herzegovina that he thought seemed suspicious enough (particularly since navies usually had admirals instead and the country was almost landlocked). General Lalonde said she wasn’t sure if he was relevant, but she’d add him into her spreadsheets for reference anyway. Oh, and one more thing before she left, she told him, was to never forget he had friends. John agreed that this was a very important thing.

A bit later, the General messaged John yet again about some things she’d heard about one Wang Chen, one Colonel Yotpai, and some organisation called the FFT way out in rural Tharua, as well as a recently-uncovered plot in Iran to improve tubes (she wasn’t really sure what that meant, but was nonetheless wary of it). John commented that the tube improvement thing was “probably serious”, as odd and amusing as it was, and she agreed that it was troubling indeed; they’d probably just succeeded in finding the centre of the whole conspiracy right there! All the terrorists were running around destroying things because they were angry at the United States for not wanting Iran to start a tube-enrichment program.

On a less silly note, Arizona State University was fully as willing to help complete the European Union as Port-au-Prince had been, which John was overjoyed to hear—it’d made him a little nervous when the Green Party blew up the Port-au-Prince servers, and for a while he’d almost been afraid they wouldn’t get any university assistance at all (that one weird Chinese guy with his crazy, off-the-wall thesis aside). John then asked her how big the European Council should be once the Union was completed, to which she replied that its number of members should be about equal to the staff of all of Europe’s post offices. She also told him that she had found out the password.

Yes, that password. The very one John was trying to hide from her in hopes of keeping Israeli spies in the dark. Rose wondered why he would hide such a thing, though she sort of sympathised considering that she had decided not to tell him about the observatory earlier (no, she didn’t really know why she’d hidden that either). If he would forgive her, she would forgive him, and then they could investigate all the terraces of this problem in harmony if he wanted to. (John thought that was an awfully odd way of phrasing it, but he guessed he was okay with that.)

Although Dave was a few days late hearing about John’s illness, he was sure to message John as soon as he heard about it too, knowing it had to be “hard for the patient”. However, it was all good because he happened to know a doctor who specialised in soft tissue treatment should John need it (to which John reminded him that what he had was merely H1N1 and unless he were to fall down a flight of stairs any time soon, he probably would not be needing that). In reply, Dave gave him a thoughtful reminder to stay away from stairs, and moved on to a bit of world news: more koragero was happening on beaches of Bulgaria, the Middle East was relatively peaceful, and Avlik, Sovlis, and Saklivis were on tour as well as Bruce Krosiflix, who was now making his way to El, El, El-El Sal-va-dor (John was not really sure why Dave had rhythmically drawn out the ‘El’, though he guessed it might be some kind of imitation of Krosiflix’s rap style). John wasn’t really interested in the musicians, though, much to Dave’s disappointment, so Dave quickly said goodbye and checked out. And with that, John decided to take a good, long nap.

When John woke up, he had serious doubts he was actually awake and not simply dreaming, partly because of the fact his headache had entirely subsided for the moment and he was feeling much more alert, and partly because a verified terrorist seemed to be contacting him on the computer. The person claiming to be Jade claimed that business wasn’t going very well lately, and also that seeing John at home was a much better omen than seeing Baker away from home (she thought that to be very dangerous). She also mentioned a need to “take” (was she trying to justify thievery?), and said that he could count on her appearing in due time.

John stared at his screen ambivalently for a bit, and not knowing what else to do, wrote her back a less-than-serious reply telling her that was nice. Somewhat to his surprise, she replied almost immediately, saying she was “sorry I did that”.

Sorry for what, John wondered? Making all those verified attacks? Jade simply told him that she was talking to him right now because her father and some rather interesting company she was keeping were afraid, and this was the only way she could think of to put them at ease. She also added that she didn’t know about John’s fate, and that the best she could tell, perhaps the State could save them. John asked if she meant the European Union or the U.S. government and also if she could possibly stop talking in riddles, to which she replied that she didn’t have a lot of time left and she would probably be as sunk as an iron anchor if she wasted any more of it. With that, she disconnected, leaving John in a state of dizzy and tired perplexity again. He decided to go back to sleep.

Probably only a few minutes after John awoke again a little later, he got another message from Dave informing him that there was some sort of nefarious scheme going on somewhere involving the use of transformation bricks on water pressure pumps to mix water and sewage together. John told him it was beginning to get a little frustrating repeatedly getting messages when he was just trying to rest, but admitted that was interesting and there were a few things worth sharing on his side, too—for one, he’d like to see more monitoring and support in the growing EU, and for another, there had apparently been some problems getting the European Community Court to join Sburb (possibly due to some kind of sabotage attempt from IDA); in lieu of it, they’d had to experiment with using a written copy of the game plan instead. Dave thought it would probably be more productive to just try a little harder to get it working, given that it was “very difficult” to duplicate Sburb’s wonderful conferencing capabilities by other means, and he was confident John was close to getting it functional anyway. Oh, and by the way, he had some more doctor friends to recommend should John forget his warning about stairs. John repeated that he was fine, although that was “very good”, to which Dave expressed regret for his unfortunate lack of success. Oh, practically all of his endeavours were without success these days, John replied, but that didn’t bother him—he just “went at full speed and plugged hard at the yoke”, and hoped for the best. Dave supposed that anyone could sympathise with that, and wished him well.

Meanwhile in the Valley of Fire, the General had decided it was time to remove the artillery battery and wait for a solution. She had just gotten a new security expert named Mason, though that wasn’t helping her pencil case problems or her wood and logistics worries (regarding the pencil case problems, it was a long story). Recently, she had taken up reading Leaps and Bounds by Dr. Tarragô, as well as five other books written by someone going by the name of Maj. She thought that Leaps and Bounds was quite well written, although its actual political message was probably only applicable to those who didn’t understand important office (that part about the Court of Auditors Pantheon and the only possible natural beauty and control being found in the political elite, for one, was just plain silly). She’d always hated it when authors didn’t do their research.

She also didn’t quite understand Maj’s tree cookbook, suspecting that it was some sort of weird deadpan parody, but its bizarre, vaguely ironic nature was part of what she liked about it. Apparently the best trees were found bordering streets and the outskirts of urban areas, while the less-choice trees grew in forests, marshes, and on mountains.  Ah, that Maj. She would never understand them.

Anyway, that was enough looking through her silly books; now it was time to actually do something. Perhaps she would feel a sense of accomplishment if she sent another political briefing to John? She supposed that a couple of mildly interesting things had happened, such as the Music Director of the Orchestra of the Games becoming the Minister of Peace Projects, prompting foreign investors and politicians to flood in demanding to know the “before and after” of this change. (If it wasn’t obvious, there weren’t a lot of actual important positions in the growing European Union yet, and many officials found it fun to slap each other with weird and meaningless titles just so they could seem important. Title changes like these were actually rather common.)

No, the General decided, it would probably be better to just let John sleep, as she did want him to get better. Especially given the situation in the valley right now and her still unsolved pencil case issue, she had more important things to worry about anyway.

Meanwhile in Hong Kong, Dave was busy laughing at bad packaging. He couldn’t believe how awful Chinese people were at spelling sometimes—”Pragorn”…? Really? And plus, being a statue of a dragon, this would go perfectly with his nickname; what a fine thing. He’d put it right over there on the end table next to that bizarre statue of some rotund and ever-so-slightly-creepy Italian mother. Yes, that was a perfect place for it.

As a young man, Dave Strider (or Dave Dragon, as he was also known at times) had been widely respected, if not necessarily widely known. All his friends and acquaintances had always been cautious not to upset his groove, since for them, a thumbs-up from him was a strong suggestion they were in sync with the way of the cosmos. He liked the night almost as much as the day, if not more, and even to this day continued to do many interesting things after midnight whenever possible. Growing up in a less than ideal neighbourhood, he’d had a couple of odd mishaps with his schooling, such as one place that claimed to offer classes actually being some kind of boiler room (the best explanation he could come up with even now was that some mischievous kid had taken the sign from somewhere else and pasted it there instead). But, overall, he’d always been a fairly confident person and didn’t have a lot of regrets. His favourite pastimes included keeping an eye on military conflicts and trying to predict who the winners would be (much like less interesting people did with football), blogging tables of random and often nonsensical facts for overly analytical people to confusedly “interpret”, playing poker, and chatting with people on various social networks. He was vaguely interested in Aztec culture, as well as reading various religious books in a somewhat distanced way, marvelling and smirking at all the strange absurdity contained within. Dave thought religion was one of the most entertaining things on the face of the earth, to the point that he would sometimes randomly show up at church services simply for a fun day of over-dramatic emotion and endless irony.

Currently, besides unpacking the newest addition to his collection and laughing at packaging, Dave was busy at his headquarters on Dave and Ping Road (a road which could have simply been Dave Road if his associate hadn’t been working so hard, but he guessed this was almost as cool anyway) trying to find a way to fill his time while waiting for a man named Hachagi (a name Dave had thought was so awesome he immediately wrote it down in his scrapbook, just in case anything else should become worthy of it later). This was one of those days where neither God, nor peace, nor people, nor culture, nor history, nor philosophy seemed to be appropriate, leaving… movie stuff, he guessed? Well, he did recall one cheesy enough movie, which in fact his favourite quote had come from: “It vanished when I saw the spread. And if the answer is ‘yes’, hunger”. What a truly unforgettable quote.

As he waited, Dave looked over at his blood-and-glass display cabinet, an article named for its bright red wood and four tall panes that ran up its sides. A number of his friends had suggested that he destroy the thing or at least get rid of it, but Dave thought it was far too much a thing of beauty to do either. Inside it, along with a couple of other things, was a peculiarly hollowed-out watermelon that contained a single coffee filter, as was visible through a small hole in its rind if one took a flashlight to it. Dave didn’t care what anybody said—this was a work of art, and anyone who didn’t agree needed to go get a more ironic sense of humour ASAP. He was sure that even John could tell right off the bat that stuff like this was fun.

Speaking of John, that was another way he could pass his time! Sure, he knew the guy was a little under the weather and all, but he hadn’t seemed so very sick the last time, and if he was awake, he was probably bored out of his mind not being able to leave his house. (Which, come to think of it, almost made Dave think of something else… though he couldn’t quite put his finger on what.) So, Dave promptly messaged him, asking what kind of crazy criminal mastermind was at it this time.

John replied that the Republic of China, Hong Kong, and the People’s Navy had just cost the marina the Piccola—Dave immediately knew this to be a sarcastic response hoping to get him to leave off since if there had been such an attack, he probably would have been one of the people that had ordered it. Yeah, John candidly admitted, he was right; this time he was trying to do things the Dave way because doing things the John way hadn’t worked last time. Dave facepalmed at that, telling him that the “worst thing ever is now complete”, now that John was trying to do things the Dave way. What would come next? John assembling eclectic collections of garbage and un-ironically cherishing them? John suggesting crazy but decidedly uncool ninja stunts to him? John moving to China and trying to become a bureaucrat there but only successfully managing to become a Communist? John would never understand his way of doing things, Dave insisted, and it would really be best for everybody’s sake if he gave up trying to do things the Dave way to save both Dave and himself from untold depths of embarrassment. Well, okay, John replied with a bewildered shrug; if Dave wanted to talk about something normal and serious in an ordinary Dave-to-John manner, he had rather come to like apple juice—he’d heard it was once famed as the juice of Daloa, whatever that meant. Dave knew that was just a silly marketing pitch, but he recommended the cider company anyway; they made nice drinks, what could he say.

Curious, John then asked what would happen if there were another Dave, wondering if it would cause his immediate destruction. No, Dave replied, it would just be another copy of the Executive Council’s top male employee, and since Ping was already doing a pretty good job of copying him and he hadn’t yet imploded, probably nothing special would happen. Suddenly, Dave wondered why he was even having this conversation, and John guessed that it was part of a reasonable effort to keep himself functioning properly and not going insane. Dave didn’t know whether to be angered or amused.

After that fulfilling and productive conversation with John, Dave decided to step out into the garden to accelerate his investigation of the bricks in the path. (He’d found them to be somewhat distastefully cracked in a rather un-ironic way, and was trying to figure out a way he might improve them to better suit his tastes.) He also decided to go comment on a blog, which happened to have a story eerily like one Reuters had posted last year on March 25th. Apparently, Romania and Turkey were arguing about marriage rights as related to religion again, resulting in a violent situation between the two where a person could not even bring up something as innocuous as potato chips without being told to go to hell. Huh.

A few minutes later, the all-important Hachagi finally arrived, and told Dave that some very creative people were becoming dedicated to armed followers of the terrorists; as such, Dave was to make sure the European Parliament was ready to carry out the plan on the last page of the North, South Hall, Des, and Idea memo. He was also to run some statistical analyses to see if it was likely that the Communists were involved with the global terror conspiracy, and if that were the case, prepare himself to immediately assume a new identity, including coming up with a new theme and unique partners. Dave fully agreed to do that, not telling Hachagi his actual plan was to simply come up with garbage statistics that rendered a new identity unnecessary.

In addition to that, Hachagi continued, a branch of Trac. SCH might possibly offer Hong Kong airstrike protection, and Inkroiabl and its transitional agent Jack de Anthony could provide a little muscle if necessary. Dave was also to download and store the path of history (from which Hachagi’s team had already learned the important fact that the Bank was really Sembl-52) and create a web page on what he thought was the historical precedent for what was going on currently. Dave stopped him there—even if the path of history was only 3,000 pages long and by some weird miracle managed to fit on his computer, he criticised, he probably wouldn’t have the time to look through it. That revelation greatly disappointed and embarrassed Hachagi—in that case, he guessed that meant the future was unknown and the most important part of his boss’s plan really hadn’t been worth much; he was sorry for wasting Dave’s time with impractical nonsense. Oh, it wasn’t so bad, Dave told him, giving him a friendly pat on the shoulder; after all, everyone made mistakes. He then sent him off with a wave.

A little while after that, General Lalonde messaged him. At this point, she said, all the de-unification, reunification, brush-clearing, and food shortages were starting to get a bit tiring, to the extent it sometimes left her dizzied and wondering what was true. Dave asked her if there was a lot of trouble going on, to which she replied that it was worse than just that—information, the bread and butter her force lived by, was growing ever more difficult to get now that people were apparently obstructing her. Dave said he’d look into it after he was done with his own matters that included a couple of human rights investigations and a little work on “development, my gift to the world” (Dave had always been a bit pretentious about his work on developing rural areas). Who was obstructing her? Well, Rose replied, although there were too many different scenes going on in her spreadsheets to enumerate them easily, she had strong suspicions that the CDP, Alabama, and some group called the Dao Blue Border had something to do with it. She’d had trouble verifying these suspicions, though, since on top of the misbehaving spreadsheets, her staff were being difficult too.

Dave, however, reassured her that that last part was nothing to be worried about since contact people were a waste of time by nature: in the beginning, there was rubbish. Later it became a microscopic rubbish city, and then it gained a new life under the second augrab, under which all rubbish was reincarnated as secretaries, clerks, and other subordinates. (General Lalonde unfortunately didn’t seem to appreciate the masterful irony of that wonderful creation myth, but Dave didn’t care.)

Anyway, Dave said, he’d see what he could do about the obstructions, and after closing the chat promptly went back to the game he’d been playing on his computer. (Dave being a wondrous master of ironic lies, it totally figured that when he said he’d be working on human rights cases he was actually playing computer games.)

In said game, Dave had just gotten a wonderful new technique that was ideal for whacking away pesky soccer moms. Dave loved the way this game combined fantasy elements with the more commonplace, and thought that was part of what made it superior to others, along with some of its more unique game mechanics—in what other games could one have a urinary weisaikesiaigebote monster in one’s pocket? Even better than that, though, in Dave’s opinion, was the Sword of Sbisib, partly because of the sheer number of mispronunciations and misspellings it brought into videos and threads about the game, and partly because of its sheer ironic potential in being a silly antique that was basically just for show. Dave recalled one particularly awesome time when he’d stood up on a cliff and beheld it toward the sky, shouting “YES WE CAN!”. After which he had promptly stepped down from the cliff, put it away, and taken out his actual monster-slaying sword.

As fun as this game was, Dave soon decided it was probably a very good idea to get back to work after his half-joking attempt to duplicate the wonderful water-filtering capabilities of the Captchalogue in real life with wet wipes and a burning, moistened cloth produced nothing more than a gigantic mess. Yeah, at this point his efforts had basically just turned into a study on wet rooms, and now he needed a towel. This was hardly even funny in an ironic way.

In the news, fish were hampering Palestinian negotiators because there were far too many to let ships into the port, and the government refused to appropriate money for bridges or aerial transport. The situation in nearby rural areas was very black-and-white: they were experiencing either crises or sudden upward spirals of population growth. (Dave wondered how such a straightforward dichotomy was even possible in today’s complicated world, but accepted it with a shrug.)

Right then and there, Ping’s father Cheng suddenly burst into the room to warn Dave of an incoming ninja sword. Thankfully, it ended up missing Dave by an awfully long shot, but as for the window the sword crashed through instead, Dave suspected it had just received its death sentence. There were only a few chunks of glass left.

On the same day but a ways to the northwest, the General was pondering a number of odd things she’d recently observed in her spreadsheets, even in spite of all her suspected obstructions.

One of which was the fact that the members of the House were suddenly asserting that a twenty-meter-high monolith was the main part of their strength. Another was that a mountain evidently known as Big Richard was looking especially smoky. Someone known as Sam had been arrested, and somewhere else, someone was standing up in a kitchen at the head of a very large table with many seats. Many news media were reporting stories about ports for some reason (Rose strongly suspected that the ports here actually stood for something else and the publishing dates indicated when that thing had arrived, much as with the wood harvesting system scheme she’d noted earlier). In Mali, a small boy stood next to his mother as they looked at a picture of rice on a market table, her view of the scene focusing on the cost of the rice per bushel, when suddenly there was a sickening flash that obscured everything else. Elsewhere, two young people named Luna and Lugo Rifai had just gotten new hairstyles and new weapons. In a kitchen somewhere else (which was ominously pink), there was a bottle of soda. In Austria, the philosopher Karl Popper, his mother, and their cat had a good $15 million, but there was an odd issue going on with seven other women claiming to be his actual mother (again, Rose suspected “mother” was code for something else to these people). A subsidiary named The Valley was shocked to discover that the manager of its parent company had just signed an official agreement between humans and women.

But most of all, the General strongly sensed that her spreadsheets were finally starting to hint at the real source of the conspiracy she and her colleagues had been working on for more than a month now. She’d first seen some important-looking official in a suit saying, “I did not know the fate of their campaign team.” Then she saw a group talking in a darkened room, saying something about how sometimes they could be stolen, and something about the resistance movement. April the 10th was more likely, and they weren’t sure if Peter Meekond was right for the job or not. But if not, the alternative was… no, the vision cut off there. Curses.

Nonetheless, knowing all she now did, the General felt an unusual sense of urgency to tell John. Even if he wasn’t fully alert, he still had to know all about the campaign team, and the mothers, and the hairstyles, and the man standing up in the kitchen, and the bottle of soda, and most importantly, Peter Meekond. Having just stared into the very face of evil, there was no way she could simply stand by.

Unless, of course, John didn’t answer, which he didn’t. Ah, well… at least that gave her lots of time to improve her theory that the government was hiding something before she just went blabbing it out.

A few days later, Dave was standing next to his tape player waiting for Cheng to decide which tape to put in it. “Determination of the tape slot is almost closed, Grandpa,” he’d told the old man, but Cheng was taking his time; the decision of what tape to listen to was very important to him, and not to be rushed.

After a while, Dave sighed and put in a rap tape, since it was hard to go wrong with rap. Lately he’d been having a bit of trouble finding any actual work to do, but he wasn’t worried about that considering that he was the best and had his awesome computer game to pass the time (Dave wasn’t always the most modest guy there was, but he didn’t care). And for that matter, he could always go and read the comments on the State of the Union transcript if he—whoa, what? Apparently he was getting a message from Jade, the verified terrorist. Weird.

Jade was very interested in his roles of ushering in development and monitoring human rights, she said. Dave asked her if she was some kind of clueless idiot trapped in a snowstorm taking things like that at face value, to which Jade asked if he’d woke up on the icy side of the bed himself, since she knew fully well about his ironic tendencies.

Okay, it was cool that she knew the full story on him, he told her. Now, would she be willing to “say the wrong bananas”, so to speak? (Let something slip, he meant.) Jade replied that she unfortunately wasn’t going to just give things away that easily, and in fact found his attempt to make her talk amusing. Had he talked to John recently, she asked? Dave replied that he hadn’t. Congratulations to Parma, Jade rejoiced! In that case, she had an idea—she could make a deal with him. Dave asked if she wanted to meet him in secret at AA to discuss this further, to which Jade replied that that was probably too out in the open. Dave guessed that meant he’d have to catch a plane. Was the point he’d just marked F on this online map an okay meeting spot? Jade said it wasn’t, and the point she’d just marked A was better. Finally, the old Ping-daddy was good, Dave accidentally typed into the chat as he noted that Cheng seemed to be ambivalently tolerating the rap tape, greatly confusing Jade. Dave mockingly asked her if she’d forgotten that part of her terrorist code. It meant that he thought everything would go smoothly, of course! Oh, Jade realised—in that case, the old Ping-daddy probably was good. With love, she wished him well.

At the same time in southeast Africa, two white staff members of the main e-Ologiqu Bank—the one that was really Sembl-52—were taking a vote on the other side of the door on how to implement the herid code. Though it was a close vote, they decided to do it in other countries, using contacts strategically placed at major centres nationwide. Putting their computers in standby mode would make it much easier to phone, and if the computers were then returned to the victims, they realised, they could easily avoid things looking too suspicious. Yes, that would be the perfect way to carry out the text… Mineroil and related measures were good, if unfortunately a bit quirky, and they would doubtlessly be perfect for stopping John if he tried to raise any resistance to the plan. And best of all, nobody knew anything… they would not have to wait long at all until their anticipated “Intervention”.

After hearing from Jade, Dave quickly got back to John, knowing that the fact she had just both told him that she wanted to meet him and given an odd suggestion that she was slightly infatuated with him was a little ominous—indeed, Dave suspected that there was something “very wrong” with the entire thing. John agreed that when a terrorist was full of love, it definitely meant less hope for the world, and he was most definitely screwed now. But maybe it didn’t have to be that way, John suggested—perhaps he could go back with her to her country of origin, become her husband, persuade her to stop the entire terror conspiracy, and live happily ever after. Actually, John found that idea quite amusing. Dave should try to contact her immediately! Maybe for all he knew it might actually work!

Dave thought that idea was incredibly stupid, perhaps akin to “Mom and Santa Claus opening schools and a number of Spa Hotel dinosaurs”—which was to say, it didn’t even make coherent sense.

Okay, John admitted, Dave was right, but what was he supposed to do now given news like this? Dave replied that John’s earlier idea of using his American Hammer was probably his best bet after all (he was sorry for telling John to delete it earlier), and if he could manage to get the paralysed European Union to stand up and use its arms, that would probably help too.

John said he couldn’t wait for the lucky day, to which Dave somewhat angrily reminded him there was not going to be a wedding any time in the future and he wasn’t going to quit politics to marry some creepy terrorist lady—after all, he could still see a viable “Team Ninja” in the future, if he’d just stick around to found it. John wasn’t quite sure what to think of that, and suspected Dave maybe thought a bit too much about his jokes sometimes. Anyway, he had a lot to do, what with creating a movement, the Gulf Emballage, and the castle, so it was probably best he get back to work. With that, John wished Dave and Ping good luck, and closed the chat.

Meanwhile, General Lalonde was trying desperately to rotate the Ungdom. Apparently, those seven mothers had actually foreshadowed the number of days the fragmented European Union would have left if she didn’t do this, and besides that, she’d had another odd vision involving a mother horse and a colt known as Maplehoof of Habsburg, in which she was sure the colt and the fact that it was actually a pony had to mean something important. (Admittedly, she knew that was a rather stupid vision, and frankly couldn’t even see how the colt could be a pony when its mother wasn’t, but given that she’d had sillier visions turn out to be important before, she wasn’t going to discount it just yet.)

What’s more, after tracking back her many visions and suspicions to a Strike Rouge manufacturer, she’d finally managed to uncover the main terrorist network along with an underground terrorist internet, and now knew exactly who was orchestrating this entire conspiracy: Jade. It couldn’t be clearer now: all the various silly news stories, all the smaller attacks, all the people standing up in kitchens and random soda bottles and wild goose chases involving Isaac and Veremm and the Tabacs—they were all decoys, ruses, distractions that Jade had put up to disguise her real intentions. Of course, Rose knew that someone like Jade would probably not allow herself to be discovered without being dangerously close to achieving her aim, and that was worrying to her. Especially given the weird feeling she had that somehow Jade was planning to assassinate John, she knew there probably not much time left, and promptly opened up a new internet map to track Jade’s location, also watching the underground internet very closely through a proxy.

More than anything else, she strongly hoped nothing would happen to John. After all, he was the very Earth to her, and she could hardly wait for an opportunity to see him in person and wrap herself tightly around him. It almost made her feel a bit ashamed to be having these kinds of thoughts, but it wasn’t as if she could stop herself.

Meanwhile, completely unaware of both the grave danger he might potentially be in and the passionate emotional drama going on on the other side of the world, John was busy readying himself for battle by looking for interesting things to smash with his American Hammer. Having recovered from his illness, he was currently feeling an unusual excess in the way of strength and vitality, and he couldn’t imagine a better condition to fight terrorism in. There was just one problem: the hammer was way too big and heavy, just as Dave had suspected, and turning it around tended to be difficult, if not traumatic (he’d already come close to twisting his joints out of alignment several times trying to swing it, and feared that if he wasn’t careful he might be paying a visit to one of Dave’s chiropractor friends sometime in the near future). He’d show that Dave, though—this hammer was in fact not too heavy for someone with enough determination, and even in spite of his terrible burden, he would triumph and defeat evil.

Yes, he could see it now: forging bonds between countries, repairing bridges, pounding the last golden stake into a wonderful new railroad. Somehow, he’d use his hammer to merge all the battles together into one extra-hot conflict that would quickly burn itself out, and walk out of the fray victorious, holding it up like a glowing gavel of justice. (Okay, now his hero fantasies were starting to get a bit silly.)

Shortly after this, General Lalonde got a bizarre message from Dave that John was being stupid and trying to make a new raison d’être for himself in being a crazy one-man army with “force in his pocket”. She wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, but guessed it was probably an overreaction and told him there was no need to worry since John would probably regain his senses soon enough, and she would be fine since “I live in a house near the forest for protection against fires and other threats, which at the moment are retired”.

Dave didn’t quite get the metaphor, but supposed that was good. Anyway, back on the topic of John, Dave actually thought it was great that John was learning to wield what he’d thought was a totally useless hammer, and in fact “kinda interesting”. Actually, Dave almost wished he’d had the initiative to do something as identity-defining as that, since he’d never really known himself. Yeah, sure, he’d thought about that kind of stuff many times before, but probably “too much and too hard”; ironic as it was, he really wished he could be that awesome.

“Look at the death of Jesus,” Dave told her. “Even there, you won’t find this type of artful and inspiring brilliance. It’s dream-like, I say, almost like a sign of protest.”

The General still wasn’t quite sure what Dave was talking about, but thought it sounded awfully like thinly-cloaked nastiness now, and told him that while she was sure he criticised people like this all the time, he’d better not take a chance at mocking the two of them since in the event of a dispute, she was undoubtedly the better shot.

Dave, however, wasn’t at all frightened by that since he wasn’t meaning to discuss what would happen if the Earth were flipped vertically—i.e., John and the General becoming a couple. He knew the answer was “basically no” to that pairing, so he was clearly just having a bit of fun satirising John and nothing more; she really had no reason to be uptight about it.

Okay, Rose admitted, maybe she had overreacted a bit. But she still really liked John, and didn’t quite agree with the answer being no, since he was the one who’d indirectly given her the answer to the conspiracy—for that reason, she was going to keep hoping. Dave laughed at that, and told her he’d message her again later in the day since he wanted to hear more about this.

Not too long after that, John discovered a new companion. And this is where our story gets weird.

You see, John’s new companion was not merely a human, or even some intuitive kind of pet such as a dog, cat, or python. His new companion, variously known as Nana, Nannasprite, Nannasprit, and Nannaspr, was in fact a fairy. Or, as she preferred to call herself, a sprite.

As it turned out, Nannaspr(it) was simply an initial prototype of her species, and this was in fact her second body—her original one had had to be used to keep Luke, the main person in charge of managing information in the Kingdom, alive by breathing his consciousness into it (apparently fairies stopped aging biologically after a certain point, so the creation of this species also meant that anyone could be immortal for the small price of a ridiculous outer appearance). Dr. Verkhnesul Peter, a professor of energy engineering, had created her along with the help of a well-known wizard in an effort to keep an old cathedral from turning into an alien, believing that only a member of her as-of-yet nonexistent species would know how to do that. Unfortunately, even she had no idea how to prevent such a catastrophe, and the inevitable transformation of building into spaceman happened anyway.

The Kingdom, by the way, was a wondrous place with rather muted colours, and yet a warm, bright glow. It was well-defended by a naval base as well as four great Bell Towers carried by hot air balloons that rung at the slightest hint of trouble, quickly summoning two well-equipped guard units commanded by officers called Firebrands. Wars in the Kingdom were somewhat different from wars in John’s world, with some periods of history being good and bright and others being “bad, dark” periods due to the forces of darkness and light alternating control of it. (Although it was somewhat chaotic sometimes, Nannasprit thought it was probably just as well they’d never tried to sign a peace treaty given how well the places in his world known as “North Korea” and “South Korea” had turned out.)

Speaking of North Korea, that was what part of her important message to him involved—a dark version of it had apparently come out of the darkness, and the only way to counteract this was to clean the separator between the two worlds away, turning it into a blank, empty, and dark ring. John asked her if she was getting reality confused with some kind of computer game now, to which Nannasprit replied that she didn’t think computers were going to happen in her world any time soon (although they did have television and a wicked technology where one could check a box to automatically synchronise one’s satellite receiver). Maybe they would have them one day, but for one thing, they would probably have less predictable and linear search engines where one could get many different outcomes from the same query.

John tried again, this time explicitly telling her that all this fantasy babble was about as relevant to him right now as olives on a car in Spain, but that didn’t still deter her. As she explained, her creator Dr. Verkhnesul lived in a town called Moon Tracker in a district named Incipispher-7, and he was trying to create a Full-moon AA filter to counteract the imminent descent of the light and dark factions onto Earth. It was still possible, she told John, as “disaster is not a person”. Now, what was his current problem?

John said it somewhat astounded him that she actually wanted to hear about his problems for once instead of bombarding him with more of hers, but if she really wanted to know, he guessed it was best described as “a really important tangle of international mischief“. Now, what was it she was here for again?

Nannaspr told him that after travelling through the Centre and meeting the big people, she was to become John’s companion and help him out in all his endeavours, and right after he met her he was also to receive something very special. But that could wait a moment. Anyway, he’d need her to find the last piece of the puzzle—she didn’t know exactly what that was yet, but did know that somewhere along the line, he would have to get admitted to Casa Skaia, where the the goalkeeper would be difficult in order to build his skills. Oh, and another thing she could tell him about his quest was that it would probably be a good way to find love, and that might even be a necessary part of it. John wasn’t really sure what to think of that, although he did admit that he’d often felt like he suffered from a “lack of love and abandonment” at times, so maybe that might not be so bad.

Nannaspr also told him that she was supposed to meet his father, though John told her that was a bit of a problem given that his father was probably still locked up in a political prison somewhere. “I can’t remember ever,” he scolded himself, a bit guilty about letting that go for so long.

Nannasprite told him it was fine, as she wasn’t sure that part was totally necessary anyway. Oh, and now she could give him that special something she’d mentioned: in order to help him on his quest, he was to receive the ability to “enter the cat”, or assume its form whenever he needed to. John at first thought that was an absolutely crazy idea, but after discovering this new form gave him the ability to hop across couches, desks, dressers, and other tall furniture with ease, he soon changed his mind. “Oh God, thank you,” he told her after locating his glasses again and brushing off his suit. “I didn’t think that would be good for anything, but boy was I wrong.”

The sprite told him he was welcome and that he made an awfully beautiful cat, just as she thought he would.

Meanwhile a hemisphere away, The General had been having a terrible day full of difficulties. Not only had there been some sort of annoying crime spree by the Betsy Chase gang, further distracting everyone from what was really going on with Jade, but some of the best Muhkliks from the centre of the city had angrily gotten up and left her meeting when she’d accidentally brought up the topic of the Independent Women’s Association and the France-Majersk blog. And she’d been so close to getting them to agree to add their country to the European Union! Ah, well. She guessed a loss was a loss.

Wondering what was going on with John, since it had been a few days since she’d heard about him, Rose opened up her spreadsheets and waited for some visions to appear. And when they did, she was shocked and horrified by the terrible abomination she saw.

No. No, this couldn’t be! Such a horrific thing could never be permitted to exist. Johncat? Nekojohn? Johnkitty Meowbert the Naptist of Wescat? No, no… this had to be stopped somehow. This was an unspeakable calamity, a terrible disgrace to all humanity and felinekind alike! Grief, this really wasn’t her day… first she’d lost the best Muhkliks, and now she’d lost John too, to the most terrible and embarrassing plot twist in the history of the entire universe. Johncat? No. Just… no.

As soon as she was able to get in touch with human John, Rose was immediately going to talk to him about this. Yes, she was going to tell him at once about how such audacious ridiculousness was unacceptable, about how if John was a loaf of bread, this stunt had turned him half-mouldy metaphorically speaking, and if anything was a mistake, this had to be one. This was an error akin to opening the gates of many cities at once and inviting the terrorists right in—it was unbelievably stupid!

A year later, Sembl-52 had completely failed in creating even the smallest Intervention. However, they were not giving up just yet. Kernelsprit and the native communities were still getting new orders, and if they could just get the original blueprint for the axle of humanity… yes, then they could really turn the tables. They just had to have all the documentation, project pages, and bug tracking applications up, and then they would be in business.

Their main goal in the short term was to improve cooperation between officials, the media, and an improved sprite prototype known as Paaalalahanan (Paala for short), in order to prepare to resurrect their old plane-flying boss who had met an unfortunate death a few months before. Now, there were several ways to improve communication with the sprite, including using two different sources, trying it from the outset, trying it after step number two, and trying it both before and after said step. However, one of the staff members explained, there was just one caveat in that their boss would not be human afterward, but instead a fairy. If anyone thought that this would adversely impact the environment, they were to raise their hands now.

Ah, good; no one objected. Well, then. As was said before, this was a very risky operation with a lot at stake, and the underground internet was now well-protected in case of emergency. The operations were also going to be carried out under the guise of a game, making them appear utterly innocuous, and if anyone knew the number of leaders in the world, that would be very helpful in order to create new street parties. All the craziness of the world was just ripe for this “game” to begin unnoticed; the only way the party could get any better was if someone would bring a movie player and some turnips from the Member States for refreshments. Yes, they could invite anyone, even those who weren’t even serious Sembl members if they liked—as long as they weren’t some sort of enemy spy, of course. This was going to be a wonderful grand opening party.

Yes, if they carried out the decision of Nussbaum IV, and took control of all the courts as their boss had suggested, that would be a perfect way to test out a prototype of an organism. The games could now begin.

One year prior to that, in the same year and the same month as the Johncat incident, the General had gotten a message from Jade saying she was online.

If she was online, the General suggested, why didn’t she open an account in person? Jade said that would probably be intuitive, but she wasn’t going to fall for it. Deciding to take a more overt approach, the General facetiously asked her if she’d give the allies a hint as to what to do next, and Jade replied that John the Baptist was the code. Oh? Rose asked. Was she concealing some hidden meaning behind the Presbytery, such as something related to the Board of the ECB? Often things could be analysed in this way, and she wanted to know if she was off-base.

Jade replied that it had nothing to do with a board or commission, and in fact she was actually being nice this time. What she’d given was a straight cipher key, and if Rose wanted to use it to see the other side of a message, all she would have to do was figure out what the letters ciphered to; the important message that would be sent in this code would be an e-mail message, if that helped. Jade didn’t think she’d be able to find it, though, given the sheer number of messages floating around on the underground terrorist internet. “Under consideration is the bag,” she taunted, meaning that she thought she and her friends could probably snatch up all the United States and European Union’s important documents in such a bag before Rose even had a chance at finding this message.

Rose told her that would probably be highly difficult, and if this message thing was another ruse, it wasn’t working. Jade replied simply with an all-lowercase laugh, and then after a brief pause, “we believe that it is a reality.” The success of the terrorists’ aims, she meant—although Jade was somewhat pained that this wasn’t a nacupvan (in her language, something easily accomplished), she knew they could pull through.

What about the city of Suppo, Rose asked? It was one of the most American cities there was, in her opinion, and if she and her terrorist buddies were having trouble, they could always attack that one. Jade seemed unusually delighted in an evil-sounding way to hear that, and asked if she was serious. Oh, of course, Rose told her—”if anyone has more freedom, it would surprise me.” Jade asked what would happen if she were actually to attack Suppo, to which Rose wondered if this was starting to turn into a game, and Jade didn’t know. But considering how much she meant to herself, and how much the success of these plans meant to her, she might just try this, if only for the hilarity of carrying out an obvious attack and watching the one with grand ambitions of catching her flail around as defencelessly as the rest.

Yes, Rose thought to herself! If she played this right, she might just have a terrorist in the bag.

Meanwhile over in Hong Kong, Dave was examining the katana that had crashed through his window earlier. It seemed to have the name “Karl” engraved into it, but due to the sheer number of Karls in the world, he was having a great deal of trouble finding its previous owner—no matter how many he tried, none seemed to fit at all. Dave guessed it was time to go back to his computer game for the moment and let Ping work on this instead.

Actually, maybe Dave could go work on the UN Food for Peace initiative; that was probably a worthwhile enough pursuit, though he never had time for it. But then again, since time didn’t exist in the first place and it was just an artificial construct, why was Dave letting it rule his life anyway? Yeah, Dave decided, time probably wasn’t an issue at this point, what with Rose having solved the conspiracy and all. He was free to goof off all he liked.

And next to playing computer games, one of Dave’s favourite things to do was look at online news sites. Apparently there had been some project going on to create faster-growing food plants lately, along with a problem with breakfast not being delivered on an almost daily basis in the Chambre. Oh, and there was also a nice article about Wood Flowers Norris—whatever detestable force was responsible for giving that poor musician such a terrible name, great was the God that made it possible. Dave hoped that the glory of Wood Flowers Norris would continue on as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, always and forever. Blessed be Hong Kong, blessed be America, and blessed be Wood Flowers Norris.

He also noticed a story about his brother and father and their work in the United Nations, which he found rather intriguing considering that he’d never really known his father. He was always looking for that kind of stuff whenever he got the chance.

Of course, not everyone in the United Nations was quite as respectable as his father or brother, and even the Food for Peace initiative itself was a little bit on the sketchy side. That Deputy Head of Department who called himself Sagittarius had always been such a fool, with not only his silly plan to facelift Italy (why was that even necessary?) but all sorts of crazy rules such as the one that “Aunkanibrotal will not be used in food”. Dave had always half-suspected the guy had just created the project so he could have his own team and a full staff of cooks and maids around his house, given that all it had really accomplished was ensuring Taiwan had an ample supply of sugar.

And actually, even that much wouldn’t have happened without the merciful assistance of Dave’s brother, who’d been gracious enough to take Sagittarius by the shoulders and threaten him eye-to-eye. Look, he said—it didn’t matter to him that the project wasn’t doing anything useful, but if it wasn’t even doing anything ironic, then it was a pitiful project without any reason for existence. And so, as a bargain, he proposed the sugar mission. Sagittarius quickly accepted, and with that, the two gentlemen went back to their usual business.

In general, Dave’s bro was a bit of a no-nonsense guy, and considering that even a mere fistbump from him tended to hurt somewhat, most were very respectful toward him. Currently, he was offering his assistance on a project to optimise the database system, which Dave likened to him becoming the saviour of folders, converting sectors and delivering bytes from corruption.

A bit above helping out something like the United Nations himself, Dave instead preferred to contribute to the world’s improvement through a comic he called “Haidelajief“—a bittersweet masterpiece all about human rights, the conflict between development and pollution, and other such heavy, serious topics (all, of course, conveyed in an abstruse and ironic style almost incomprehensible to the average person). At first, the name was simply going to be “Hyde and Jeff”, but given Dave’s huge interest in mutilated English, it wasn’t long before he decided an appropriately Chinese-sounding mangling of it would be more appropriate. And soon enough, it stuck.

Actually, coming back to that idea he’d had earlier, Dave suddenly realised that if Jade was really still waiting for him, a UN mission would be an almost ideal way to get over to her without anybody thinking the trip was suspicious. Before he left, though, he might as well go talk to General Lalonde, since he did want to hear more about the most outlandish pairing in the universe.

You know, John would be like a fire in your home, Dave cautioned; if what she wanted was pain and more pain, he was probably a perfect choice. In reply, the General reminded Dave of her house’s considerable fire defences as well as her extensive knowledge on fire safety. Dave then tried warning her that John had a very healthy interest in judging competitions, which she would probably not be able to stomach. The General found that vaguely interesting, though, so he added that this competition was largely a rip-off of a Bruce Lee story—it was kind of like that one silly Japanese sports show where people tried to be ninjas. And for that matter, the people of Europe weren’t even going to be able to talk to John for 10 minutes in a teleconference because Sburb wasn’t working, and there was also a problem with the Commission; John wasn’t really handling things all that well, and he never did, really.

“His eyes are totally oblivious to Israel, you know,” Dave told her. “I swear, the way he does things is the perfect way to get people murdered on a regular basis.”

Yes, John’s failures probably were serious, the General agreed, but then again, knowing that history was full of “infinite pages of psycho” as far as pairings went and yet many of them had actually not turned out so badly, she still wasn’t going to give up.

Of course, maybe she had said that too soon, she realised as she returned to her spreadsheets: yet again, they were showing her visions of Johncat running around snooping in other bureaucrats’ wastebins and cabinets with what appeared to be some kind of glowy blue fairy following him. Maybe Dave was right after all.

“America,” she said to herself, “enjoy your drunken stupor.”

As soon as she got an opportunity to speak to human John again, the General promptly reminded him that although people probably ought to expect such things from him at this point, his department would probably get much better recommendations if he focused on pleasing his visitors than running around the building as a cat—had he even published the index yet? John replied that he hadn’t because he thought it was pointless rubbish and didn’t even see how it was all that relevant to internet users, anyway. What, was she turning into Dave? Maybe she get by with it, but he was not going to get caught co-authoring some kind of silly chicken census or assessment of the damage done to clay in Trinidad.

The General told him that was a preposterous thing to say in the midst of a national crisis when air traffic flow management was getting held up and people were probably removing the dead from crashed planes somewhere in the world every second of every day. Okay, John agreed, he guessed it was warranted in that case. But did this mean that they were also going to try the vacuum? (By which he meant, he wondered how much more the plan could suck.)

The General sighed, telling John that his stubbornness was a totally stereotypical case of what one of her textbooks had described on page O. Really, this index was important in catching the central suspect in this conspiracy—Jade—and she promised she’d explain why it was relevant later. Now, it was just important that he publish it, since if he didn’t there would likely be “consequences of the most extensive amount”.

Okay, John finally agreed, he’d publish the index if it was really that important. Good, the General replied. But there was just one more thing she wanted: that speech she had told him to write for her. All right, John agreed, but he’d have to go fish it out of the jacuzzi before he could fax it (why that was would take a bit of explaining, though cats, fairies, and shenanigans were probably a major part of it). Um, okay, the General replied. The last of his work was done for the moment, though it was “by no means the only thing that remains”.

Which, for the General, was perhaps an understatement. Currently she was having to wade east through a particularly treacherous area of mangroves, where water was aggressive and misleading—most of the waves were small and gentle, but every so often, one would erupt up in a large, abrupt splash that thoroughly soaked her (unfortunately, in all her efforts to chase down Jade, she’d unfortunately forgotten to procure an order of raincoats, and was now paying for it). But perhaps for all this traversing tough terrain she did, maybe she might at least get a silver medal or something, she fantasised. Maybe one day she’d even get to show it off to John and watch him turn it every which way and marvel at his reflection in it.

And in the nearer future, at least she was going to get to hear from the General of the Army, who was basically the father of the entire European Union project. She was a little apprehensive about what he’d have to say, especially given all the recent mishaps with SOAP, gold, destruction, the Kabchalogo war, and Santa Claus, but nonetheless, she still looked forward to it. In preparation, she’d already memorised the show and drop table, uploaded several deadly pollutant reports, and even written a paper on gastronomy of the region of Aublivio—she was most definitely not slacking off in her duties in order to have more time to think about John or making up silly, barely relevant tasks purely to get more opportunities to work with him, so there was really nothing to worry about. Not that there was anything wrong with thinking about John, of course, given that many of her successes had been at least partly because of him. How could the earth not take him seriously? The guy was a veritable Swiss army knife. And for that matter, the European Union was actually looking remarkably stable right now.

Unfortunately, the General couldn’t lie to herself for very long before the hard truth crept through again: the European Union was still, as ever, threatening to fall apart any moment, she really only had half an idea where Jade was, and it still looked like it was going to be a while before there was any chance the hostages would be returned. Ergh… this was a terrible job sometimes. She wished she had the Council of the League of Positive Thinking (another product of bored EU bureaucrats) to cheer her up.

Well, maybe she could find a bit of solace by asking John to check one of her online maps to make sure the link she’d put on the Church of Brody twice for good measure was showing up, and—oh hotelsoap. Now one of her subordinates was contacting her about another much more troublesome John; no time to chat.

Three years later, in another dim and shadowed room Sembl-52 happened to call its meeting place, there was yet another shady strategy emerging, which seemed to involve a set of Alabama web studios. But there was also another, hotter topic being discussed as well—eternal life. They had already found four good answers to the question of death which were looking fairly promising, though the precise execution of them and the place of obtaining the materials was a bit sketchier. And that was where the web studios came in: they weren’t really web studios, but in fact suppliers of alchemical goods masquerading as more ordinary businesses. Admittedly, the great stacks of documentation now filling up the Sembl storage rooms from all the failures to meet the companies’ stringent documentation requirements were not so good a sign, but their considerable progress on improving their sprite management methods, getting the necessary loans, and expanding out from the office on 100 Locke Street to the control of an entire province all hinted at a bright future.

Nevertheless, there were still a few precautions to be taken. For one, people were not really getting as engaged in their game as they had hoped, partly because it was too complicated; typically, players would just shift about helplessly for a bit and then promptly quit and go do something else. Apparently, if this plan was going to succeed, they’d need to develop easier games.

Another big problem was that the regular internet was increasingly gaining access to various parts of the underground terrorist internet, and it was soon going to be necessary to cut off these mysterious outside forces before they found out anything critical.

But all in all, this was wonderful news. Now it was time to go back to excluding ordinary people, exchanging pleasant small talk, and happily consuming turnips, crackers, and punch.

Back in the present, a man named John Scott Meillet had just made an ominous appearance in a nearby bar, made the cryptic remark “this is our Atrayan”, and then secretly planted a bomb in the place and left. General Lalonde took good note of this, and thanked the new recruit who had just informed her of it. She was glad to have new people working on the Jade case, as it helped her feel less alone. Now, if she could just improve her time management skills a bit rather than going off into silly reveries and mentally frolicking around in fields of flowers Disney-style, she’d be set.

A short while later, she got a message from Dave informing her about a problem he was currently having with Luo Binchang. In order to leave the country for any length of time, he had to give a report to the rest of the council on the purpose and details of his mission, so he’d decided to put together a comprehensive directory of taureaux (a clever, euphemistic descriptor he’d chosen to just barely disguise the fact it was complete rubbish) to appease them. Only her expert wisdom on women’s history and Alexander could possibly complete it.

Ah, the General replied. How about including something about remote-control vehicles? That seemed random, nonsensical, and culturally universal enough. Then again, there was also that incident with Bob in Orange, France, or, if he insisted on women’s history stuff, he could always look up that one painted teen picture series for some deceptively meaningful-looking illustrations.

Dave, upon looking them up, thought it was a toss-up between the two Bervom, and also realised that some hospital photos would be perfect for the section on how the last molas died. With that, he thanked her and went back to writing quality taureaux.

Meanwhile in America, John was once again returning to his hammer training. With Nannasprit’s help, he was now gradually learning how to wield his hammer like a true Kabchalogo in accordance with the cowboy code, and had already started to perfect a few of his own special techniques, like one he called the sidewinder.

In addition to that, he’d recently managed to locate Dave’s map, along with a few other documents Dave had hidden inside pogo.com and some kind of weird utility secretly built into the site for finding infocards describing any computer in the world. With this, he’d already been able to figure out that the Dkomglik chain was probably just a bunch of little circles and found a bunch of things that would be perfect to convey to Lynn at 4:00 PM. Yes, more and more, it seemed to him like he was just a few steps away from the perfect plan to catch Jade and resolve this mess; he even thought he had a solution to the General’s hostage problem now, and in addition to Dave’s documents, he’d also found several others on such things as Baarch, 4-Bribonchid, biogas, and even a couple of empirical reports that looked a bit too bizarre to not contain hidden messages. Admittedly, the actual applications of some of these seemed a bit dubious, but then again, he suspected that the best ones were still waiting for him if he could just find them.

Of course, next to General Lalonde, John was still a bit of a beginner at hacking, and had managed in the process to break a couple things such that people’s shopping baskets were showing the wrong logo and the site would even shut down entirely sometimes due to a glitch causing the server’s bright blue power light to flicker. But John didn’t really notice or care about that since he was too engrossed in his new master plan.

A little while later, the General called him up to tell him that she had finally gotten in contact with a servant of a high-profile West African who might provide new insight into the Jade case. John asked how that was at all relevant to the conflict, and told her she’d probably do better to take a look at the big picture like she was always telling him to. The General told him that she was just trying to take an approach that was a little different from what she’d tried before, and besides, didn’t John know that in order to see the big picture, one couldn’t lose any of the little pieces? She’d been trying to tell him that from the beginning.

In addition to that, the General had also gleaned from the underground internet recently that the acronym THE would become very important to him in the near future. Though it would take a while to explain to him exactly what it meant, she could tell him now that one of the three letters stood for a symptom he was to use “like a car bank”, though even she had no idea how to do that herself. John asked her what on earth she thought she was doing—did she even know what the main points of interest in the Jade case were right now? What was she getting accomplished at this point?

General Lalonde started to tell him that she didn’t really know enough to determine what Jade’s objectives were and there was no language to describe what kind of weird twists this conspiracy was taking on at this stage, but he quickly cut her off before she could speak.

“Out of my way,” John curtly told her. “Of all things, do you really think symptoms and car banks are going to help us solve this problem? I think I’ll just stick with my own plan from now on.”

And with that, John quickly got to gathering up his collection of food security, looking through his father’s old effects, and pondering how to make the last few parts of his plan fall into place. His father had been very passionate about security (it had been at least half his book as far as lectures and whatnot went), and John generally agreed that it was important to protect oneself and one’s food at all times. Compared with that highly sensible piece of advice, though, other things of his father’s such as costume accessories, books on criminal law, and early drafts of newspaper advice columns were not necessarily as helpful (particularly when the person writing in wanted stomatological advice).

He also found an odd article on Zhangyurenyuehan humour, whatever that was supposed to be, and an old book that somehow looked slightly less old than it had the last time he’d seen it though it didn’t appear to have been fixed like his father had meant to do. The best he could tell, it seemed to be about some kind of very important process involving 511, but he wasn’t really sure what that even was, and thought that was probably why his father had kept it. Maybe he’d better make sure that was safe and secure too.

Oh, and there was that letter of critique his father had left pinned on the wall that one time after he got it in response to a book he was trying to publish… the one that was nagging him about making sure everything in the book was correct since if it wasn’t, many people might find it a gigantic disgrace to their beloved operating system. John’s father, however, had largely just laughed that off and just sent it in again, and they hadn’t even cared. (Which was good, given that nobody had really wanted to touch it for a peer review anyway given the “huge responsibility” of living up to the aforementioned high expectations.)

While John was somewhat nonchalantly shuffling through old junk, the General was really starting to worry—were her interactions with John going to become as turbulent and blustery as the Kabchalogo war? She hoped that wouldn’t be the case (it was an awfully bloody war, after all).

“John, please,” the General appealed. “We’re not going to get anywhere with this.”

However, John didn’t really like her agricultural policy at all, and besides, he told her, his family’s business was global now; if he didn’t take his father’s rescue and the conspiracy into his own hands, he might just be standing by as young people in Tibet called for liberation. All that business in Tharua with that troublesome Colonel would simply keep on going, and the capital of Vaolthal would continue to be a death factory as the protection racket and other injustices just kept ramping up.

At the same time in Hong Kong, Dave was considering his own role in the war against terror. You know, he thought, this was kind of like that one Bible story where the little brother had to make the perfect ninja sword to present to the king or face certain death, and it was really difficult, but then he believed and got a bunch of wonderful swordsmiths to make it for him and they went and chopped the crooked tyrant’s head off. Dave loved stories like that. Yeah, this was the war where he was going to step out and enter his true stately ninja form, crouching atop the torii gates in the moonlight in his dusk-black camouflage suit eagerly waiting to strike. He meant that ironically, of course; he wouldn’t literally climb up a torii, since he had no idea how to get down. He was more sensible than that.

As always, Dave was carefully keeping an eye on what was going on in the European Union, particularly in Edward Munch’s office in Aubsmanshab, Germany where the situation as of late had been about as appealing and orderly as a skin infection. Just recently, someone had spilled coffee on some important documents, and they still weren’t able to recover them or even figure out who did it; all they could tell was that it probably wasn’t Watdokrathob since he wasn’t there that day. Dave couldn’t believe how stupid politicians could be sometimes, but that was part of what made the whole operation so fun to follow and why he’d become friends with John and his colleagues in the first place.

While heading off to go eat and clean, Dave wondered what it would be like if he could combine a sword with a mobile phone. Perhaps he would call it the sword of Pannea, and claim it was forged with the blood of human rights and fundamental freedoms—yeah, that sounded grand and ironic enough. You know, maybe there actually was something to that ninja thing… maybe the reason he hadn’t been able to find Karl was that he was to become Karl by wielding that sword. Maybe it had slipped through his window by destiny. Maybe—

Sweet Jesus, he’d finally found himself.

What’s more, Dave was awfully close to getting that plane in order to meet Jade, as the Las Vegas director had already told him it could be done; even though he’d wanted to drown the whole ordeal in bureaucratic nonsense and all sorts of delays, Dave had managed to work through almost all of them. Granted, there had been a few problems related to the transport of his fireworks, darts, and shuriken (which Dave had insisted were necessary for his mission but which his staff had somewhat disapproved of and eyed suspiciously at least about 509 times by Dave’s best estimate). However, even those had been squared away after Dave gave them a particularly stern talking-to like he’d seen his brother do on a couple different occasions, reminding them that this was perfectly within their guidelines and they had no reason to ask him to leave. Upon his arrival, he had promised all his friends Siladix cakes if they would bring him at least three or four more types of weapons, as it was always good to be well-prepared.

Of course, it wasn’t as if his friends weren’t suspicious about this, even though he did give them much of the truth over a covert network; a couple of them were not even so sure there was even a war going on, and questioned whether these would in fact have any constructive use, but Dave assured them that the conflict going on was in fact very serious, making the use of this option quite valid.

Yes, when Dave stepped off his plane into Massachusetts, he could already feel things starting to fall into place. John was ready to smash things with his hammer, the General knew precisely where to find Jade, and as they manoeuvred her into an appropriate place, he was going to catch her in the middle of a frightening display of weaponry that would freeze the most experienced terrorist on the spot. Or something like that… he didn’t have it perfectly planned out, but he could tell it was going to be awesome. And then they were going to either indict her so well over the next few weeks she lost all her self respect and begged to be executed, or just kill her then and there. (Probably the former, as the latter would not bring very good publicity when he pretended to be someone concerned with human rights. Besides, even if he was going to do the ninja thing and disregard all other moral standards, it was probably contrary to the law of sin. God, that whole ‘honour among thieves’ thing was so annoying sometimes.)

But for now, what was important was setting up a kind of home base and brainstorming more odd and improbable inventions. Maybe while he was making that prototype phone-blade, he could start thinking of how to combine a reflective traffic cone, a balloon, and a crane.

Meanwhile, at the Bank that was really Sembl-52, the white staff members were trying to discuss how all the various elements of their plan would fall into place. Indeed, just about everyone was squared away at this point, though it was possible that some wouldn’t be happy with the roles they’d been given. But, beggars couldn’t be choosers, and they couldn’t just sit and discuss the hypothetical all day if they ever wanted to have a successful Intervention. Sooner or later, they’d have to do this thing. They’d have to make it happen.

No, the views of some unknown, indifferent committee did not matter, and even if the company refused to Bourikord Kabchalogo, they still couldn’t give up—if necessary, they still might be able to find suitable Bouirkording in the text. Which brought up a related question: how was it possible that ‘dog’ didn’t stand for batteries or Siladix cakes in their code system? It was so confusing and inconsistent sometimes. At the very least, though, Hashamab had new information about tactics including the possibility of using pipe bombs and biological weapons, and there would be some nice fast food coming from New Delhi for the next meeting, not to mention some even better food coming from Ireland. Yes, the more food-obsessed members were aware that this would be making Arun their cargo horse again, that he didn’t share anywhere near the same enthusiasm for it as Othong, and that he probably wasn’t good enough at korterihonisto to get the good food. But did he want to end up without turnips at the next meeting? No, of course he didn’t! And if he didn’t, he’d better not try to sneak out of his food-procuring responsibilities. So there.

Oh yeah, and the war. Actually, they could care less about the war, given that it had royally messed up the financial sector and probably wasn’t a good thing to get involved in in general. But then again, it had helped clear up some of the opposition and suspicions that otherwise might be arising, giving them a nice environment to kick back and lots of food to enjoy. Oh, what was that? Somebody had already contributed refreshments for the next meeting? How awfully nice of them.

A little while later in Massachusetts, Dave discovered a mysterious bouquet of violets labelled “Dave Dragon” waiting outside his door as he began to step out of his hotel room. He had no idea who could have left them there, but it was nice to know someone cared, even if he wasn’t sure about what or why. With a shrug, he brought them inside, set them in a nearby vase, and went back to his computer to delete the Recycle Bin, print out that paper from earlier, empty his spam folder—wait, what? This was the actually the first time he’d ever gotten spam in his entire life. Somewhat disgusted, he promptly set up another layer of filtering to prevent from it happening again.

Suddenly, Dave remembered that he had to find John and the General if he wanted this plan to be successful, and he’d better not delay given all this business with Atrayan, the African Union, the small and medium enterprises, and whatnot. Frankly, Dave thought this whole consipracy game was ridiculous, and part of the reason he was doing this in the first place was to help decisively end it. He wanted to “speed up the white”, so to speak.

So, Dave quickly booted up his chat program and sent a message to the General, although due to his thoughtless use of sarcasm on the topic of her relationship with John the conversation unfortunately ended up drifting into a pointless exchange of facetious flirtations, suggestive metaphors, and emphatic bursts of gratuitous obscenity. Eventually, though, both parties realised that it was rather pointless to be taking stabs at each other and each other’s relationships, and decided to return to a more businesslike and sensible topic like mature and responsible adults. “This is a serious problem,” Dave told her. “We can either can the lumps under the bug right now, or let many taste the chaos this thief is going to unleash.”

The General agreed that focusing on the problem before them was probably the most logical plan, and referred him to the map she was using to chart Jade’s progress, noting the places she thought Jade was most likely to appear (Suppo being one exceedingly good candidate), but also that there could possibly be others which she would be sure to add if she found them.

Just a little while before that, John and the General had finally come to an agreement on the use of his plan; it had taken a lot of persuasion on both sides, but eventually both decided that their plans were somewhat mutually compatible and the General would in fact be willing to put up with “a little wind” if John would be willing to “reduce the next John”—that was, the evangelistic-invincible-always-right-heroic-leader John that had begun to emerge in the past few days. Surprisingly enough, John was perfectly happy with that, and told her the current John was already reducing the next John as she spoke. And in order to better grasp the big picture like she was always telling him to, he was even considering Andesen’s point of view for a change.

After their argument, John noted to the General that he had found some rather interesting things hidden in the dark depths of the internet lately. For one, he had successfully determined that Totem was a 4-PIN website, and after sneaking in, he was able to trace the site back to Athens and discover a suspicious link between Porto and Toteemeit as well as some kind of connection between the four codes and some odd instrument known as an alchemiter. Oddly, he’d found that the number four was recurring a lot within that site (the four PINs, “four is gone”, some note about four kits, etc.), and also found a lot of other interesting things, including how at least five castles were located in a place called EA and the Totem code was apparently a… stimulus package? Given another note reminding someone known as Violin-Pierre to refer to the bank statement system, this sounded like Totem either had an odd business-related code going on or they had some plans to seriously screw with the economy. Either way, it sounded rather ominous.

Upon hearing these things, the General told John it would probably be a good idea for him to read Leaps and Bounds, because some of the ideas discussed in it seemed awfully relevant to what was currently going on. For one, she highly suspected the alchemiter John had heard of and an even more mysterious instrument known as a htotm were definitely “some of the fish in the pond”, given that one person Tarragô had paraphrased had said four points would one day each originate from their own alchemiter and join together to produce a flower. Now, granted, it was a rather silly book overall, and some of the stuff about the last fourth industrial complex was outright garbage, but even that section was really rather incredible and turned out to work very well in practice, so she really recommended that John read it. The book also gave a number of hints that the number four itself was highly significant in some way, though Rose had never had the slightest idea how or why.

Then suddenly a startling possibility dawned on her. There were four of them, including Jade, and four petals on the flower that came from alchemiters. Did that mean that…? No, that was totally ridiculous. There was no machine on earth sophisticated enough to create a human being, and magic wasn’t—oh, right, magic was real because John had a magic fairy following him around. But if she was right about this, what did that mean for Jade? If the four petals were supposed to join together, then would they be in trouble if she were killed or imprisoned? Was Jade not the kind of person she appeared to be, or was the person Tarragô paraphrased simply spreading rumours to try to bring down the United States later on? Grief, all of this was starting to make her head hurt.

On the other side of the Atlantic, John was starting to take his hammer by the handle again and was about to close the chat, but as soon as he saw this odd new theory of his origins suddenly appear before his eyes, he jerked so abruptly he accidentally pulled a muscle. It was a very bad idea to tell him that, John half-jokingly and half-seriously scolded the General with his free hand.

The General replied that she was sorry he’d hurt himself, but unfortunately didn’t have any advice except to be sure to stay hydrated (which she thought was generally a good idea anyway). John said it was okay given that he had a bed to rest on and no one was watching, but wow. If what she’d said was really true, it could change everything. She asked him if he wanted to communicate directly, to which John said it might be a better idea to focus on trying to help some of the hostages escape. General Lalonde, however, informed him that this was already part of her plans.

“Given how well we can see the game of fraud at this point, the looks of this situation are really changing,” the General explained. “I think we will try everything.”

Meanwhile in a place known as San Juan Bautista, some very shady-looking people probably associated with Sembl-52 were crouched quietly in a dark passageway. One whispered reprimands to the other to stop being stupid, as the place contained valuable items and it would be a waste to get caught by some silly little devil on the roof; besides, there would be more room to manoeuvre in the attic.

When they got there, they were to check on the locations of John and Jana (who should be waiting on the edge) and collect the list that would give the full description of their mission. Thankfully, there would be several options that would allow them to avoid the largest enemies, and their routes would be better synchronised now that their watches had been fixed to actually display the time. This really wouldn’t be much trouble at all.

At this time, the General had just recently discovered the organisation known as Sembl-52 thanks to the underground internet, and was just beginning to learn about a peculiar game they seemed to be developing. For one thing, they seemed to be working out some way to fit John in their plan, and for another, there were hints that they were using that odd John the Baptist cipher Jade had given her earlier. She decided it would be a good idea to warn John about this, even if it meant getting him out of bed to do so, and quickly dialled his number.

However, John was unable to answer her call at the moment because he was currently chatting with Jade.

Jade started, somewhat characteristically, with a cryptic remark that the story of Yuehan was clearly soon to become a legend. John asked if she wanted assistance from him or what, to which Jade replied that that would be wonderful. John told her that though he knew nothing about terrorism, removing houses was probably a good idea, and Jade agreed that that was probably important. In addition to that, though, she was going to be sure to include a means to maintain the illusion of a positive economy, so it wasn’t going to be easy to tell when her main plan was going into action.

John found it rather curious that she would just go telling him what she was going to do like that, and asked if she was doing silly things out of shock at the fact Dave had turned her down. Jade found that amusing, and told him that she would like a little help and would be willing to tell him a few things in exchange; in addition to that, she’d be sure to have a nice order of gastrointestinal tracts waiting for him. John said that sounded great, although—wait, what? Did she say gastrointestinal tracts?

Jade replied that by gastrointestinal tracts, she meant the QCH, at least at this stage, and it would be sent by direct mail. John thought that sounded somewhat sketchy, and asked her what she thought the police would think of such a thing. Jade said it was difficult to explain, and he would come to understand what she meant in due time. But suffice to say, Jade wanted to know all the John the Baptists because she found them to be an inspiration, and thought John should go visit John so they could be properly introduced.

Head still spinning from all the nonsense that had just been dropped on him, John sat down on the edge of his bed and tried for a moment simply to clear his mind while attempting a few different stretches in hopes of re-aligning his arm muscles.

And now, for a brief aside, we turn to some happenings that occurred in a time and place quite different from the main events of our story, and which will hopefully help to provide a better historical context for its events: the story of West Virginia in the American Civil War.

You see, the invention of the internet actually occurred much earlier than most textbooks would tell you. Indeed, the computer itself had been in the works as early as 1642, when the first clockwork calculator was built by a young man named Blaise Pascal, and the process of sending information via telegraph was already well established by 1843, nearly two decades before the war, so it should really come as no surprise.

Anyway, in this wonderful era of rapidly advancing technology, West Virginia was quickly becoming a popular and powerful force on the fledgling internet. As the East Penang Company began to lose sales due to this new ease of ordering domestic products, the state was gradually gaining a monopoly on soy sauce, and this vicious loop only continued until even the profits of slave trading companies in South Africa could hardly compare. One reader of a South African newspaper famously remarked that if the South Africa Company had anything to fear, it was “West Virginia and soy sauce only”.

Partly due to this, partly due to their lingering hatred of the people who had rebelled against them and won, and partly due to a few recent mishaps, the British were really starting to hate West Virginia—especially after an embarrassing transgression from Thomson and First Baron Kelvin, as well as another blunder from Low, Pierce, and that one mulatto man from Qatar many Americans derisively called ‘Blackjack’, it was now making them look incredibly bad by comparison. Admittedly, their plan to put cows in space was still looking promising, but that hardly made up for that incident with the bomb. (Yes, space travel happened to be another thing that was in progress well before people tend to think it was, but that’s another story entirely.)

Anyway, West Virginia was gradually turning into a real commerce capital, becoming a prime supplier of many things including groceries, landscaping, small appliances, books, and canvas. Many people simply could not imagine buying a hardcover book that had been shipped from any other state, given that those produced in West Virginia often displayed a remarkable amount of durability and general quality of materials; in the way of groceries, the state was famous for a great number of things all the way from mustard to bacon. Rather reasonably, many other states were quite jealous of its success, including New York and its neighbour Virginia; Virginia had put forth an admirable effort to expand its markets through both internet and telephone-based methods, even going as far as helping out in the construction of Zvi Street and the municipality of São Tomé in hopes that this would better advertise its products to the world. However, people seemed to be much more drawn to the fancy pair of stone wings put up in honour of the legal market, and nobody ever paid much attention to the so-called Old Dominion.

Interestingly, even in the face of West Virginia’s overall success, southern West Virginia was quite poor, and was only managing to get by at all with help from France—in a tough dilemma of what ideas to market and how to keep the region from sinking, along with such setbacks as Democratic women replacing respectable Republicans (something somewhat unheard of in this era), the state congress had decided that borrowing money from Europe was probably the only feasible solution to such a crisis, and France was by far the best choice given that the French also hated King Bormistari and would be quite willing to help anyone who shared their aversion to such a callous, unfeeling monarch. After West Virginia had done this, Virginia too had tried to solicit help from Europe, but its prayers for prosperity once again went unanswered. For a long time, the Virginians had no idea what to do, until they saw the inspiring words of S. N. MacGovern in print—as artful and stirring as the text on a greeting card—at which time they sprung to action.

And thus, the Virginians added to their telephone and internet tactics the International Marathon—inspired by rigorous ancient Inca techniques, this marathon was to span a vast route all the way from Richmond to the fertile plains and the West. However, even despite this race’s success, the contest essentially ended when West Virginia entered the oil market, and much as with other areas it had expanded itself into, once again began to monopolise things. Especially with improvements in external combustion engines, even the southern region was beginning to prosper.

In light of this, Tom and his wife chose to settle down in West Virginia rather than Virginia, like many other sensible Americans. Their house, only a short ways away from the highly picturesque Great Wall of West Virginia, was bright and colourful, and the water was always beautiful and clear (which was something that could not always be said for Virginia). This highly appealing state of affairs was partly due to judicious planning crews who used the results of the census well and focused on effectiveness and efficiency.

However, given that West Virginia itself formed from a secession, there was always a risk that the southern part of West Virginia might in turn leave its parent state, and Virginian Democrats were well aware of this due to the possibility of taking it for themselves to expand the Confederacy. Thus, they began to hatch a plan in order to protect their dear sweet sugar plantations and teach those cocky West Virginian Union men a lesson. At the centre of their new plan was a grand supercomputer much greater than any computing machine previously built, which had the capacity to display interactions between objects on many screens at once, and thus offered a huge strategic advantage.

Meanwhile, West Virginia simply kept further expanding and travelling, improving its markets’ structure and vision, and putting more and more funds into its army and militia. Its new grip on the Brazilian coffee market and increasingly better oil-refining practices greatly enhanced its ability to create unnecessary pressure on its rivals, and now it was starting to become a bit of a tyrant, even dictating fashions in dress and ideas.

But soon enough, the Virginians discovered the West Virginia water system. There was no going back now; even if these activities might be dangerous, the pressure was high, and they could already envision the blue of the sea, the clarity of the environment, and the smell of victory in their future. Blaise Pascal, the very King of Science, was on their side, as was their very God. And thus, they coordinated their steam-powered machinery onto a little triangular area of their rival state and prepared to eliminate the water system.

Meanwhile in Aberiv, West Virginia, a man known as Deberiv was working in close collaboration with regional and local authorities to acquire and develop a source of fault for the Virginians to target. His plan to build this source of fault involved small tanks of water (which he had somewhat whimsically named Waberiv tanks), knives, and a Deberiver (obviously). Indeed, Deberiv was the kind of guy who loved to cluster as many confusingly similar self-references together as possible, and that was part of what made his strategies so successful. Much more than any of the actual moving parts of the plan, it was usually the irritating cluster of ridiculous names that brought his opponents down through foolhardy bursts of disgusted stupidity.

And indeed, that was precisely what happened. Between the Abiariver, the Abiarivid, the Aberivi and the Deberivi and the Seberivi and the Teberivi and the Riberivi, the Virginian officers quickly gave up trying to understand this ridiculously complicated joke of a stratagem and simply ran straight into Deberiv’s trap. They attacked the water tanks, exposed their method of communication as clearly as a lightning bug, and soon enough ended up surrendering to the talented Deberiv.

Subsequently, Deberiv and the Aberiv team soon enough peacefully took over Virginia and granted the people’s wish for prosperity by introducing more West Virginian policies and programs (albeit in a somewhat confusing manner full of frustratingly similar names, as Deberiv would not have it any other way). With that, Deberiv and his team raised a toast of pumpkin juice to celebrate the extension of the Aberiv network a thousand miles, and nearly everyone was happy—at least in Virginia. Once again, Virginia’s reputation of being not only the oldest but one of the most important states returned, and even as the conflict between the Union and Confederacy heated up elsewhere, people actually fell asleep from all the peace and cooperation that was occurring between these two states. When the time came, Virginia soon let go of its right to slavery without much commotion at all.

And nearly 100 years later, a man known as Nicholas Strider was born. He was the descendant of Deberiv, and the means through which Deberiv’s technique was later taken to its most perfect degree. He named his son “Dave” as a diminutive of “Deberiv”, and swore on his ancestor’s grave that his family would uphold the Aberiv network’s marvellous legacy of irony.

End of February