“You need another rock in hand.” Lapis whispered in warning. The priest remained focussed on the opening he had hammered in the wall; tense, like a spring wound to its fullest potential. “And you will want one at the ready to hold for close combat – so don’t throw all you have.”
Emerson glanced over and noticed the Brother double fisted and poised to launch a grapefruit-sized hunk of limestone at whatever would be so unfortunate as to crawl through the opening in the wall. In addition he had somehow amassed an arsenal of another three or four rock chunks on the ground in front of him. Emerson quickly grabbed up another stone from the earthen floor of the cell and returned to the ready position.
“We could call out to the guards for protection.” Emerson suggested without taking his eyes from the opening.
“Now there is a thought.” Lapis scowled slightly. “We could tell them we were attacked while digging an escape tunnel.”
Emerson was about to retort when the sounds of something approaching became imminent.
“Be sure you wait until whatever is attacking shows itself.” Lapis advised. “You don’t want to waste a throw in panic.”
Emerson saw movement and threw! Gilhooley hollered once, then fell to the floor in a heap.
“Well done Sir Sir.” Lapis called, as the two men hastened to the child’s aid.
“Do you know Ezra Crumb?” Joseph asked.
“I saw him in the port last week.” Petharic said. “He was picking cookie crumbs out of his beard and feeding them to the seagulls.”
“My aunt knows him.” Junie said.
Joseph seemed to take no notice of Petharic and Junie’s responses. “I first met Ezra Crumb fifty-one years ago.” he said barely above a whisper. The wick in his lamp had burned down almost completely within the nozzle resulting in a faint flickering light that smoked furiously, filling the air with a dull haze. Joseph’s green eyes looked past Junie and Petharic, focusing on a distant time and place. Junie and Petharic both leaned forward, becoming entranced by Joseph’s transcendence.
“He arrived in New Babbage from the west, traveling alone, claiming his entourage had been delayed en route to the city. Handsome, charismatic and well spoken, it wasn’t long before he’d ingratiated himself among the upper classes of the city. My wife was particularly taken by his smooth style and words of wisdom. We opened our house in hospitality, insisting that he not waste his money in any of the local hotels.”
“He still appears to eschew hotels.” Petharic commented. “Or at least their baths.”
“The empire had fallen over a hundred years earlier but I had never had a doubt that from it’s ruin would arise a new republic. And now, with Ezra’a inspiration I could imagine the two of us forging this perfect society; the intellectual elite; ruling side by side; a pair of philosopher kings!” Joseph paused before continuing.
“Many a night over the fine wine that I provided my guest, we discussed our plans for the new world order. He liked to call our plans an intellectual exercise; thought experiments – but they were so much more than that to me! There would be no democracy in our perfect society. Democracy has been a failure in every arena it has been tried. Give the masses a voice and it leads to ruin. We would rule for the benefit of all; testing children early to determine their potential; raising them communally; guiding them into fields of study which would best serve the needs of our new republic.”
Petharic and Junie began to shift uncomfortably in their seats.
“So excited by our many late night discussions I secretly started my tests at the Dunsany where I’d taken on the role of chief of staff. I realized that with intensive therapy and a cocktail of pharmaceuticals I could shape the behaviour of children – no matter how disobedient – creating the ultimate citizens. So proud of my efforts, I brought Ezra Crumb to the Dunsany one afternoon to show him what I was doing – and he mocked my efforts; claiming it was I who belonged in the madhouse! He reported me and condemned my efforts.”
“Way to go Ezra!” Junie exclaimed.
“I know why he did it. He wanted power for himself; wanted to rule the new world order alone! The sole philosopher king of the republic. The Dunsany was closed. The condemnation efforts now led by my very own wife! But my work was not to be wasted. I had discovered many underground caverns when excavating the cellar of the Dunsany and over the course of time had located the majority of my labs to the subterranean caverns below Clockhaven. I quite literally took my plans underground never again to see my wife and young son.”
“You procreated?” Petharic sounded incredulous.
“As the decades past I have often wondered what had become of the world above. So little news trickles down. Ezra Crumb, I have heard has taken to calling himself emperor which leads me to believe he rules in opulence and luxury. I should have seen it all along. But no more! I have devised a means of communicating across the aether and have discovered a like minded group – a group who worship order, led by a young princess of Mars. I have the means in this test tube to secure and control her rule here on earth and bring Emperor Crumb to his knees. “
Junie and Petharic exchanged shocked glances as Joseph appeared to study the amber liquid in the stoppered glass tube.
“Come!” said Joseph with a smile, suddenly rising from behind his desk. “As my guests; to bear witness to the forging of a new inter-planetary alliance. Something this momentous cannot wait until morning! We must be off at once!”