“Whom can I trust?” Shadow Walker paced, his energy still high from his second brush with death since becoming the “King” of the Z-Lotz. He didn’t wait for Eagle Eyes to answer and instead ‘ran ahead without his footwear’ as the Veritas liked to say. “I mean who? I am supposed to be their King! Can you imagine someone plotting to overthrow or kill Many Paths?”
Eagle Eyes nodded. “Yes, I can. If we are going to discuss this, you must keep your voice low. We might be overheard and that would not do. I can imagine someone trying to overthrow or kill Many Paths.” Eagle Eyes paused, watching the face of her friend carefully. When she saw that he understood, she continued. “Shadow Walker, you had better be able to imagine that you might be undone. Or, we surely will be. And I have an inkling that your death would be of some interest to Many Paths. Thunder clouds she would see on every horizon. For her, bright green would turn dark blue and blue would look brown. The yellow sun would no longer sparkle like stars after a rain. She would just find annoyance in the rain. Her large bright heart that sets a glow in all the people would instead be a siphon to suck their sunny spirit out and replace it with spent black embers from a fire once so bright.”
Shadow Walker took deep breaths and consciously calmed himself while Eagle Eyes spoke. Just thinking of Many Paths helped. But it also awakened an overwhelming desire to leave; to return home; to see Many Paths; to touch Many Paths; to smell and taste her; to make love with her; to be home where he could trust everyone.
“Yes, Eagle Eyes. She would grieve for a time. But she is our leader. And she takes that responsibility — that is above everything else, her own comfort, her own desires — even her love for me. She would not allow her to stay in such a foul place very long. Because of exactly what you say. She would well understand that by seeing a snake in every river, she would lead others to see the same and eventually the people would die of thirst. She knows how important it is to lead by example.”
Eagle Eyes nodded again. “Yes. And an angry leader may anger everyone. A stupid leader encourages the people to be stupid. A cruel leader inspires more cruelty. Do you agree?”
Shadow Walker admitted to himself that it sounded plausible. But then he tried to imagine a counter-example. He couldn’t. Yet, something tickled in his mind that the truth of Eagle Eyes was a partial truth. “There is much truth in what you say. However, just a few minutes ago, I was very upset — for obvious reasons. But you didn’t let it make you upset. Instead, you calmed me down so that I might think more clearly and not do something impulsively that might make the situation worse.”
Eagle Eyes considered. “Yes. You’re right. Sometimes bad behavior produces a good reaction in good people. But that only works at first. Imagine –these people, the Z-Lotz — the leaders lie to the people. They choose their king by assassination. The king — well, certainly NUT-PI, but conversations with Cat Eyes suggest that others were similar — the king shows no loyalty at all to the people whom he depends on. He tries to control them all with fear.” Eagle Eyes bowed her head and shook it side to side. She sighed a deep sigh. “How can people let themselves live like that? It’s horrible. Anyway, the effect of all this to our current circumstance is that because NUT-PI himself was so untrustworthy and so disloyal, many of the Z-Lotz could well be the same. They may think you’re better than NUT-PI, but the ambitious ones are all able to convince themselves that they’d do a better job than you! After all, you’re not even a Z-Lotz.”
“All right, Eagle Eyes. So…” He broke off because Eagle Eyes put her index finger on his lips. He remembered her admonition to speak softly so as not to be overheard. He took several deep breaths and continued.
“So, let’s leave! Let the Z-Lotz sort out their own issues! For all we know, Many Paths needs our skills right now. Why are we saving these people when we may still have more problems at our own Center Place.?”
“First, I don’t think sneaking out is all that feasible. But even if we did leave, might they not be affronted by a King who simply — abandons them. Hard to know whether they would become so ensnarled by their own fighting that they would ignore us or whether they would somehow find this a good excuse to attack the Veritas. And — the very best we could hope for is that things would “get back to normal.” And these people would come and steal children again. If we stay…and we live…there is some chance we could improve relations between … well, really among all the tribes. And, they know things that could be important for us. Besides, none of the people born into the Z-Lotz chose to be born there. If we can help them….”
“If. Yes. If. They know their ways. We don’t.” Shadow Walker looked at Eagle Eyes, who was clearly deep in thought. “I don’t even know how many of them know about that cache of weapons and gold that we found. I don’t know whom I can ask about those weird liquids in the see-through rocks that are not rocks.”
Eagle Eyes and Shadow Walker reflected on their situation in comfortable silence for a time. The Veritas were unafraid to give their ideas space enough to breathe; time enough to mature.
After a time, Shadow Walker said, “We desperately need to understand more of their language. Perhaps we could find some tutors to trust. More than one. It may be very hard to decide whom to trust, but it may be possible to find someone to trust. If we could ask questions of multiple tutors, and we get the same answers, we might presume that they are telling the truth, or at least the truth as they see it. Yet, if they say almost the exact same words, then they are telling a rehearsed story to gain our trust.”
Eagle Eyes added, “In addition to learning more about the Z-Lotz and their language, for others, we can simply be honest. Tell them that, because of the assassination attempts, you don’t know whom to trust so we will need to test their loyalty. Give them the Veritas Test of Truthfulness. If they pass, you will trust them and that will be a very good thing for them as well as for you. On the other hand, if they lie to you, they will not pass the test and that will be a very very bad thing for them.”
“What is the Veritas Test of Truthfulness? Why have I never heard of it, Eagle Eyes?”
Eagle Eyes smiled. “We will need to create it.” After all, She Who Saved Many Lives created seven tests of empathy. We ought to be able to create one test of truthfulness.”
“We observe someone doing something very difficult without their knowing that we are watching. We note how they do. Then we ask them how they did. We will see how accurate they are in their description. If they are honest about their mistakes, they are likely to be honest about other things. On the other hand, it seems a bit ironic — and more than a little sad — to build a test of honesty that relies on deception.” Shadow Walker looked down to the side and bit his lower lip.
“Then let’s not,” said Eagle Eyes after a time. She saw the questioning look in the eyes of Shadow Walker. “I mean, let’s not be deceptive. I don’t think we need to. We will ask them to do something and observe them. I believe, the dishonest will still give themselves away. They are so used to lying that they won’t be able to give a fair description of what they did and did not do.”
Shadow Walker considered. ALT-R had been able to fool nearly everyone about his true nature. For most people though — Eagle Eyes was likely right. What if the Z-Lotz had their own ALT-R? Would they be able to smoke them out? After all, Cat Eyes had said that the Z-Lotz leaders convinced the people who actually worked that they believed in a whole jungle web of lies when actually, they didn’t. She had seen their hypocrisy. Perhaps because as a slave, they saw her as not fully human or not very clever. Shadow Walker realized that he would benefit from the thoughts of Eagle Eyes so he said aloud, “We need to start with the people I do trust. I can explain to Tree Vines that the sooner he can help me vet the Z-Lotz, the sooner he can leave to see his daughter — and — that his daughter will grow up in a safer world. If we do this right, we might be able to prevent kidnappings such as what happened to his own daughter so many years ago.”
Eagle Eyes laughed.
Shadow Walker frowned. “Is that funny?”
Eagle Eyes said, “No, it’s just that I had an image. I saw honesty spreading through the Z-Lotz like a plague.”
Shadow Walker chuckled too. “That would be something.” Then another frown passed over his brow. “But that seems like we’re making them into Veritas. Is that right? What if they prefer being dishonest and choosing Kings by assassination rather than competence?”
Eagle Eyes said, “Yes, in the same way that watering the squash turns it into something edible instead of a barren stalk. We’re not talking about their preferences for how well done they like their meat. We’re talking about truth — which is every bit as vital as water is for life itself. Lies, dishonesty, cruelty, hate — these are not the paths of Life. These are paths of Death. As shown by our story of the Orange Man.”
The Myths of the Veritas: The First Ring of Empathy (Beginning of Book I)
The Myths of the Veritas: Feast and Fire (Beginning of Book II)
The Myths of the Veritas: A Map of Sorts (Beginning of Book III)