“By the fires of Kaama-Drezz!” Gorrmunsa swore. He dug his claws into the back of the chair in front of him and raked long furrows in the rich material. “Our entire plan, completely failed,” he turned to the two Black Hand operatives, “Because you did not tell me anything about a pneumatic filtration system!”
Carsius shook his head, nearly laughing in complete surprise. He looked at Laurel.
“You saw those and learned about the filtration system, and that’s how you knew the plan would fail?”
Laurel paused a moment; part of her wanted to lord it over the men, to throw it in their faces and tell them, “I told you so!” But she saw the crushed expression on each of the operatives’ faces, and so she chose to remain gracious.
“Yes, I wanted to tell you about the filtration system. I had wondered how the people could remain healthy in spite of the factories spewing filthy smoke day in and day out, and that’s what led me to discover the filtration system that automatically takes any foreign biological substance—like the althraxine spores—out of the air.” She sighed, “I tried to tell you.”
“I know that now,” Augustus admitted mournfully.
“Laurel,” Carsius remarked pensively, “there was something else you were saying about the wyrts earlier, when Augustus first arrived. If I remember correctly, it had nothing to do with vapor dispersion. What was it?”
Laurel heaved a sigh; here was the moment she had been waiting for.
“I was trying to say that it’s not just the althraxine that will overload the wyrts, nor is it the analthraxine that will keep the people safe from them. Chemicals don’t defeat wyrts; their whole existence subsists on the transmission of information. If there is a forceful inundation of information that conflicts the current trend of information, I believe that this, coupled with an infusion of the althraxine and analthraxine vapors, will be the key to ensuring widespread neural liberation.”
“But how can we accomplish this inundation?” Augustus asked. “Such a thing sounds impossible.”
“It must be focused,” Carsius observed, “we’ve already tried hitting the whole city at once, and that didn’t work.”
“Then, too,” Deej observed, “you have given the Elitinati no less than eight colorful announcements that there is someone within the city seeking to end their influence.”
Everyone pondered that somberly.
“Where do we even start?” Augustus burst out.
Renata raised her hand timidly. “What about the Six Pillars of Illuminus?”
Laurel blinked in surprise, “Those are the foundational beliefs of the Elitinati!” she mused.
“And if the Elitinati are the ones controlling the wyrt-mother—“ Carsius continued.
“—then to get them where it hurts,” Augustus completed, “we need to take down the pillars!”
Laurel looked at the wyrts still crawling around the paneling on the walls of the house. “Which pillar, though? All of them?”
“Let’s start with the easiest one,” Carsius suggested, mulling over each of the six in his mind. “If we can figure out the order of importance, and begin with the less-noticeable one, we may be able to squelch the Elitinati influence before they decide to fight back.”
Laurel paced agitatedly. “So,” she prompted the man, “which one would that be?”
Carsius frowned in deep thought.
Augustus suddenly gasped, eyes alight, “The Pillar of Scholarship!” he exclaimed.
Carsius confirmed it with a nod. “Taking over the Universities and schools of a country is the first step of an Elitinati infiltration.”
Laurel grinned and rubbed her hands together, “Then let’s take over the University!”
“Now, wait a minute,” Deej spoke up, “Is it really as simple as taking over one building, or are there several? And how are we supposed to get inside?”
Laurel shrugged, “Walk in, I suppose; we are invisible to the wyrts and their victims, so we could just get inside and—“
“And what?” Deej interrupted. “That is the problem with you humans! You are always so hasty to go and kill each other that you do not take time to make plans!”
Laurel heaved an exasperated sigh, “All right, we need to make a plan.”
Deej nodded, “That’s more like it! Now, what is the first step in overcoming a wyrt-influence?”
Laurel thought back to when she had accomplished this feat.
“Well,” she answered slowly, “at first I was overcome by its influence.”
Deej nodded to Renata, who immediately grabbed a book of empty pages from the shelf and began writing at his direction.
“So perhaps the air is different here than it is on your homeworld; one cannot simply ‘be overcome’, they must have althraxine in their system for it to happen here.”
Renata wrote: 1. The saboteur must take a dose of althraxine to enable the wyrt-connection.
“Good,” Deej continued, “then what happened?”
“Then…” Laurel faltered as she tried to sort out the details, “Then I realized I was being overcome, and I fought for a time.”
“What happened when you fought?”
“Gwynna—I mean, the wyrt-mother—pushed harder to influence me.”
“So…” Carsius tried to factor this into the plan, “The first sign of an influence not working will push the wyrt-mother into overdrive to enact the influence.”
Renata wrote: 2. The saboteur must remain in control, to cause the mother-mind to push harder and react, focusing on the single host instead of the whole city.
“What happened after that?” Deej prompted Laurel.
Laurel blinked, “That was when the neural connection suddenly reversed,” she remarked with surprise, “and suddenly I had the capacity to access the wyrt-mother, and influence her.”
Deej thumped his staff on the floor, “There we have it! When the mother-mind is focused on a single host, and that host has the capacity to fight back, as long as the resistance is powerful enough, the ‘signal’ will reverse, and we can begin introducing the counter-idea to the Pillar!”
Renata wrote: 3. The saboteur must continue to push against the mother-mind until the signal reverses, enabling the saboteur to influence the information passed on to the network by the mother-mind.
Gorrmunsa had remained silent this whole time; his tail flicked slowly back and forth, but inside, the wheels of his mind spun at a furious rate. He shook his head in amazement.
“That’s all we need, then,” he noted as the pieces fell into place in his mind. “Once the pathway is open, we need only to introduce the counter-idea, ensure its effectiveness with a dose of analthraxine, and the people will be awakened!”
Renata reviewed her notes. She looked up at Laurel. “Will it work?” she asked.
Laurel picked up a passing wyrt and studied it. “There’s only one way to find out,” she stated simply.
Carsius accepted the book from Renata and looked over her notes himself. “Who should be the saboteur?”
“Perhaps it might be me,” Gorrmunsa purred, “everyone knows that the Kytarr mind is the most resilient of any species.”
“Yes, but we’re talking about an influence on human hosts,” Augustus objected, “Therefore it might work best if the saboteur was human as well.” He looked to his fellow Black Hand operative, “may I be the saboteur?”
Carsius, to Augustus’ dismay, shook his head almost immediately. “You’re so hot-headed, you’re liable to destroy the whole system before we could topple the first Pillar.”
Augustus wore a wounded expression and did not reply.
“Besides,” Carsius observed, “there are Elven races here, too; therefore, if we’re going for a species match, the saboteur would have to be one who is both Elvish and human.” He winked slyly at Laurel, “Plus, it wouldn’t hurt if the saboteur is one who has done this before and succeeded.”
Laurel wagged her head and sighed, “All right, I’ll do it!” she conceded. “Tomorrow morning, I’ll take a dose of althraxine and we can begin.”
“Tomorrow?” Augustus asked in surprise, “Why not today?”
“It is nearly nightfall,” Gorrmunsa pointed out, gesturing toward the window.
The young man shook his head, “Is it just me or did the day go by really fast?”
“That’s something you’ll have to get used to, Augustus,” Carsius noted, “Time moves a bit faster in Eillumaeia than it does back home.”
Just then, Renata appeared with a pot of soup, and Deej followed her with a tray of bowls, spoons, and goblets of wine.
The Ewok passed the goblets around to each person. He raised his glass and toasted, “To the Day of Reckoning!”
“The Day of Reckoning!” everyone echoed, and their unity was sealed.