Previously in Future Prefect... after leaving Bill to consult with the Dustbins of Wisdom in private, our heroes went upstairs to discuss what to do. Irritatingly, they were then arrested by agents of the Internal Security Agency. In the basement, Bill accepted the assistance of the Dustbins of Wisdom in escaping a similar fate. Climbing into the leftmost of the three Dustbins, he found himself transported to the Black Forest in Germany where, he is assured, he can begin to fulfil his destiny.
Bill walked forwards, kicking his way through undergrowth thicker, greener and more lush than anything he had seen in America. Clearly h2g2 had many good things going for it, if it was clean enough to produce plantlife like that, and trees so large. Bill wouldn't have thought that possible from his life in America. The world was too polluted, beyond repair. Or so he had thought.
Up ahead, something glimmered through the trees, a flash of white revealed briefly by the wind moving leaves. Bill pressed on with renewed speed. This might be where he was supposed to go. Abruptly, he found himself at the edge of the trees, facing a clearing. Perhaps a hundred metres of gently sloped grass rose uninterrupted to the base of a large white wall which surrounded some sort of large building. Towers rose from within the walls, and he could hear the sounds of people talking and chanting.
He started forwards again, and had not got more than halfway to the wall when two people stepped out of a gate - he would have sworn the gate hadn't been there before it opened - and headed towards him. Bill stopped, using the time to study them. They were both tall, dressed in similarly cut robes of a deep green which brushed on the grass behind them, and Bill thought one of them looked a bit like Agnes, although it was little more than a passing resemblance. They both had startling eyes - green, but such an intense colour it almost appeared to be glowing. They stopped a couple of metres in front of Bill.
'Greetings', the one on the left, a man, said.
'Your arrival was expected', the one on the right, a woman, added. 'Although not so soon, we had wrongly thought.' Bill nodded. The Dustbins had hinted at it.
'You have things to teach me, I understand', he said.
'Your understanding is correct. We will
Teach you, guide you and show you what you need
To fulfil your task, help yourself and save
What can be saved before the long night comes', the man said.
'And what is that, exactly?'
'What can be saved, is all you can save. You
Must know this already if you are here.'
'Yes, I know that, but what is it that you have to teach me?' Bill asked. 'The Dustbins of Wisdom were big on destiny but vague on how I was meant to actually go about achieving it.' The woman smiled slightly.
'They are vague, deliberately so, for
If they were clear and easy for all to
Understand, there would be no way for us
To ensure that only those intended
Are able to discover the meaning
Of the words the Dustbins speak unto them', she said. Bill frowned at her.
'Do you always speak like that?' He inquired.
'Measured speech concentrates the mind, so we
Speak in lines of ten syllables, as it
Requires more concentration than straight prose,
Although perhaps not as much as blank verse', the man told him.
'Will I have to speak like that?'
'Only if you wish to. Some of our kind
Speak normally, while others use only
Rhyming couplets, riddles, or limericks.' Bill shuddered.
'That sounds terrible', he said. 'So where do I go to find out more about what you're going to teach me?'
'Where else but to the classrooms? There you will
Join our initiates, and set out on
The path to the white robes and green eyes which mark
Our kind, and the power with which we will,
One day, restore the balance of the world.'
'Let me guess', Bill said. 'I'm the one who's supposed to restore the balance - you're all just around to help me, aren't you?'
The woman nodded. Bill sighed.
'I suppose I'd better get started then', he said.
Agnes breathed a great sigh of relief when she managed to slip out of one of the broken windows without cutting herself. Remaining invisible had been a risk, but she had seen no alternative if any of them were going to make it out of this without a trip to the execution chamber. At least free she could do something to help. From outside the window, she watched as the others, including the old lady and her butler, were marched out of the house and into a large black truck. The doors on the back of it were closed, a man got into the front and a few moments later it drove off into the night, leaving some black vans behind and about half the number of ISA agents.
Waiting for a suitable moment, Agnes went back into the house and went to the basement door, opening it and slipping through as quietly as she could. A quick search was enough to tell her Bill wasn't here - nobody could hide in this basement unless they were invisible. The Dustbins of Wisdom still sat there, and Agnes could hear feet moving upstairs.
'Bill?' she hissed quietly, just in case he was hiding somehow. Maybe he'd learned how to become invisible as well - Bath had mentioned feeling hints of power from Bill at times, and Pord seemed decidedly confused by what he'd picked up from the edges of Bill's surface thoughts, although the Sitter on the Chair of Moxon wouldn't probe any deeper without Bill's explicit consent, or great need, neither of which he'd had.
'He hath departed already', the Dustbins intoned suddenly. Agnes jumped, although they were quiet enough that nobody upstairs could hear.
'To begin his destiny. Thine own lies here.'
'I thought you'd already answered all the questions I get.'
'The man thou knowest as Bill marks a turning point', the Dustbins said. 'The rules have changed.'
'How did he get out of here?'
'We provided the means.'
'Can you do the same for me?'
'We cannot, for thou must remain in America. Thou must be reunited with thine companions, or much will be lost. Remain invisible here until sunrise. Then shall it be safe for thou to depart.'
'Okay', she said, and settled down to do just that.
California State Penitentiary
Bath swam back to consciousness slowly, although there was no pain. Simply layers of fluff on top of his brain. It was familiar from the first time he'd been arrested in America, as were his surroundings. Apparently they'd brought him right back to California State Penitentiary. No doubt they were already preparing the electric chair they hadn't been able to strap him in the last time he'd been here.
He wasn't intending to let them use it this time either, but when he tried to sit up he discovered that he was held to the hard bed with straps at shoulder, ankle and waist. Further straps held his wrists to the bed. He turned his head as far as possible, enough to determine that he was in an individual cell, as expected. He hoped the others were okay, but he had no memory after they'd been shut in the truck and one of the guards had let off a gas grenade of some sort. He'd been afraid they'd been intending to kill them all there and then.
Still, he wouldn't get very far like this. Attempting to wriggle out of the restraints did no good, so he attempted to form the appropriate gesture with his right hand to cast them off. Nothing happened, as the straps were too tight for him to move his hand very much at all.
He tried again, and this time managed a bit more movement, but still nowhere near enough to do anything useful.
'Well', he muttered to himself, 'everybody always said I should have studied more.' If he had, he might have been able to formulate an oral spell to free himself. He ran through the small number of oral spells he'd memorise. Few of them appeared even remotely useful, especially not the spell to make toast fall butter side up which his sister Puddlina had written him for his birthday when he was fourteen. Similarly useless were the spells to clean shoes, something he could do with gesture magic anyway, and the spell which summoned a small imp to scratch one's itches.
Reviewing the words of the spell in his mind, Bath tried to remember what little he had learned of oral spellcraft, something he hadn't been particularly gifted at even when he'd tried to learn it. Well, if he got out of here he would definitely be spending several years doing nothing else. In the mean time...
Part of the spell, he knew, regarded what the imp was bound to do. Give it free rein and it would likely just go off for a drink, but perhaps Bath could reduce those limits a bit, enough that it would be able to do other things, but not so much that he wouldn't have a tool with which to negotiate with the imp to do what he wanted.
He changed what he thought were the right words to what he hoped were the new right words, and after taking a deep breath, he incanted the spell. There was a shimmering off to one side, which abruptly coelesced into a large potted sunflower. Staring at it, Bath wondered what had gone wrong. He incanted the banishing spell, modified in the same way, and the sunflower vanished.
Not a moment too soon, as it turned out, for a few seconds later the door flap opened and a pair of eyes peered in. A few moments after that, the door was opened and four burly guards came in and began releasing the straps which held Bath to the bed.
'Where are you taking me?' Bath asked as they pulled his hands behind him and put handcuffs and leg irons on. Half-dragged out of his cell, he flexed his fingers as much as he could. More hand freedom would be useful, but there was certainly more of a chance with handcuffs than tied to a bed. None of the guards said a word, simply dragging him along with them. Bath felt along the handcuffs with his fingers, hiding a grin. Last time he'd been arrested, he'd not had the chance for making proper gestures until Agnes and Pord had turned up, but this time, it seemed, they were being slightly more careless.
'Well, I don't think much to the conversation here', Bill said. 'I'm not sure why I should stay any longer.' Muttering a wish for luck, he flicked his right hand.
Immediately, he felt like he was stumbling through a layer of glue on the floor. The guards clearly felt it as well, and moments later both they and Bath were unable to lift their feet, their boots fixed firmly to the smooth metal floor of the corridor. Bath gestured again, and the guard who was already reaching for his weapon snatched his hand away as it turned into a small kitten, which scampered down the corridor, unaffected by the glue spell.
'Very clever', the guard said as the other three's weapons also turned into kittens. 'But now what are you going to do?'
'You know', Bath said. 'That's something I really should work out one day. But what are you going to do? You might think you can wait here until someone else comes along and forces me to release the spell...'
'That sounds like a good plan to me', the guard interrupted. 'They won't be long.'
'I'm sure they won't', Bath said, 'but I can't actually take this spell off when I'm handcuffed, and if they free my hands... who knows what I could do?' He smiled slightly. 'Oh, and one other thing. Any other guards who come close enough will also find themselves stuck to the floor and armed with kittens.' He could do that, now. Catching himself in the initial formation of the spell had been unfortunate, but with his hands as they were, necessary. 'I hope you know some good word games.'
The guards all looked at him with curious expressions somewhere between hatred and fear, with a glimmer of wariness. Evidently they thought he was insane, which, Bath reflected, he may very well be. Only a little bit, though. Humming softly to himself, he suddenly remembered the imp-summoning spell, and the potted sunflower. Perhaps he could get it right if he tried again.
How will Bath get unstuck from the floor without surrendering himself to the American penal system? How will the others escape? What will Agnes do when she leaves the cellar? What is Bill going to learn, and how long will it take him? Will his instructors make him lose weight, for it is an infrequently-mentioned fact that Bill is at least twice as wide as a normal person, and four times as deep, and the mysterious people he has joined might not have robes to fit him. Come back for the next Future Prefect and find out.