I. Propositions of Little Men


       Tautanooie, sometimes called "tat" or "oooie" by people who knew him
well, stood silently in the night at the end of the dock and watched as
Da'ang worked his way through the second keg of ale. The excess of dark
red liquid that he couldn't fit down his throat spilling onto the bare chest of
the man, Da'ang looked some hill barbarian all draped in furs as he was.
       Tat looked back and forth, expecting at any moment a guard or the
owner of the ale to show up and begin complaining, or arguing or shooting
or worse. It was in Tat's humble opinion, that kind of night. Hot and humid
on the water, trouble and it's twin cousin problems just waiting for something
to do.
       The little rickety dock next to the little rickety town was the only
gate-point for at least a day's ride in either direction, or if you had to walk it
would be three days (and they appeared by all rights to be on foot). Oddly
enough of the two, Da'ang would have been the more upset of the two at
the prospect of more walking. Yet as he finished the second keg and tossed
it into the fast moving river, Tat could already see him eyeing up the third.
       In the depth of his own gut, Tat could feel the rumblings of a need of
strong drink himself, but fought back the urge on the concept that at least
one of them should be sober when the ferry arrived. This line of thinking
was confirmed as the sturdy legs of the other man buckled, and he dropped
the third keg of ale on himself as he fell. He lay there moaning quietly for a
few moments.
       "One of us should be sober," Tat muttered, then went to collect his
partner.
        
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       On the small inland sea, the intercity-ferry jostled slightly then
smoothed out, as the inertial dampers kicked in. The captain from his
position on the foredeck determined that the limit of visual determination
had been reached and sounded the warning klaxon before turning off the
holographic projectors.
       The dark barge shifted in hue to a tan flatbed, the heaping piles of
oddly shaped boxes becoming the neat and orderly stacks of goods on the
way into the city.
       Da'ang vomited over the side again, resting on the railing, which had
changed from dirty vine to clean rope.
       "I must remind you, that this type of behavior when the completion of a
trip is near is quite a tedious affair, all the wretching and whoring and other
bits of insanity really are starting to wear thin," this from Tat who sat
patiently dressed in a thick blue peasant robe, watching the spectacle from
a bench.
       "Nuttin wrong with a little living it up when you're outcountry, makes you
appreciate the city all the more," the wretching man smiled back at Tat, then
leaned over the side once more.
       Tat listened patiently for the next thirty minutes, as the ferry picked up
speed, the breeze that the deflectors allowed through blowing through the
few strands left on his pate. He watched the coming horizon with
expectation, always relieved to see the city in the distance and know that he
was going home.
       The City. It started as little dots, then grew quickly until the tall white
spires and other structures stood out like grand pillars of welcome. For two
hundred years it had gotten no other name, in that when one referred to
"the city", there was only the one on the whole planet.
       The entire rest of the planet was on average one step to the left of
outright barbarism, and technology in large part generally ended with
leeches. Some had "natives" had tapped into a magic of sorts, which
worked in some areas, and confounded even the most learned
technologists of the city. But it can be said of the outlands with a sense of
security, when visiting those parties: don't ask just eat it.
        The world had been kept that way, the Five Kings staunchly
concentrating all the technology into the one area, keeping the rest sterile
by comparison. Twenty million people lived and worked in the city, the seat
of all power, and the other ninety million people on the planet lived in
ignorance.
       The city was clean, all the water and power one could hope for, a
network of intelligent machines and pleasures for the mind as well as the
body.
       Tat smoothed out his robe and collected his partner, leading Da'ang
inside the ship. From inside the boat, he vided the office, and checked
messages, ordered up a change of clothes from the boat's wardrobe and
then a ride to meet them at the dock, all charged to their ferry account.
       Through the thin walls of the changing cube, Da'ang yelled questions
that Tat felt better kept quiet.
       "Any rings?" Da'ang cut through the quiet murmur of the other ferry
patrons, all quietly struggling back into their own city clothes after a trip
outcountry.
       "I'd prefer if we held off until we were under more private conditions,"
Tat hoarsely whispered back, smoothing out the crease in his powder blue
pants twice with his hand before sliding into them. The bright yellow tunic
and the powder blue hipjacket followed, both handled with care as he
fended off more questions.
       "Any calls from the Duke?" Da'ang yelled. Tat could hear a couple of
murmurs stop and knew they were listening at the mention of title.
       "Carduke? Called and said street J," Tat called back, hoping that the
nonsensical answer would stop suspicion.
       "Wha? What are you talking about?"
       Tat slipped out of his cube and made his way updeck, leaving Da'ang
shouting at the wind. He had hopes that people would believe that he was
talking to himself and that the entire conversation would be chalked up to
crossed lines.
       It wasn't until the ferry docked that Da'ang caught up with Tat, the
heavy man could tell his partner wasn't happy. As they disembarked, Tat
shook his head at the conflagration of outerwear his partner had chosen,
the charcoal grey slacks were hopelessly a season behind, but the bright
red/green check jacket over the purple droopy simply bespoke of insanity.
       A three wheeled enclosed cart, the cheery white and blue of the elite
stable, pulled to the curb, and the pair boarded quietly amid the hustle and
bustle of the ferry crowd.
       "What was that load you pulled back there? Deserting me in the
cubes?" Da'ang exploded when the door was closed and they were firmly on
their way.
       "And let you speak of the Duke's business among strangers?" Tat
decided to start his argument with logic and reason this time.
       "Hah? Let me remind you of who is the courier here and who is his
assistant."
       "Let me remind you of who actually does most of the work."
       "Let me remind you of whose name is on the door."
       "There aren't any names on our door," Tat looked confused for a
second.
       "Moot question, as it is, I have reason to believe that you are almost
done with your training," Da'ang leaned back into the seat and pretended to
go to sleep.
       "Training?"
       The cart whizzed through uptown traffic, between the commercial
shopping pyramids, skirting several of the large parks in the midst of the city
before turning onto the First Kings Concourse, home of the business district.