The four companions in turn answered a few questions of their own; seeing how Consuelo kept wanting to know what they were doing here.   After a while,   Consuelo took off his giant-sized hat and started smiling as he scratched his head. “You’re full of crap, but that’s ok.  In a way I envy you: you seem like you could all probably put up a good fight if the Demodads happened to get wind of you.  Some of us really have to be careful.  But anyways; you’ve already said something:  you mentioned this thing called the Kroyel society and as I’m insinuating...”  he waved his hand repeatedly as if to stress his point.  ”If you’re here for just that or… to cause havoc against the Demodads,” he said in an especially low voice, “I’m certainly not going to stop you!” But he turned pale and looked around nervously as if reminding himself about something in his own mind while he added quietly : “you didn’t hear that from me.”

“Hey, we’re not here to anything!” stated Thope lamely. “We came here to enjoy a couple Pepito sandwiches and engage in civil discussion with the locals.  We just want to see what it’s like in this town.”

“Yea, of course you are,” Consuelo said sarcastically.  “But if you want to pretend you’re just here to just look around, I’ll play along.”

“Can you please warn us about anything else in this city that we need to know?” Seto asked their host politely.

 “Well, I could,” Consuelo replied.  “If you don’t find it offensive.  If it’s worth a few more sandwiches I could probably lead you to better people to help you.  But really not much more than what I have already told you.”

 “Get him a damn sandwich if he wants,” said Thope, who had not really lowered his aggressive mood after the fight outside.

 “Well; if you do – that would be great,” said Consuelo.  “But anyway, if you’re going to trek around here, I’ll add that Cercor Town is completely self-sustained in electricity and utilities.”

 “You already told us that!”

  “Yeah, but it provides free housing and engineered food for virtually everybody (unless someone in your family pisses off one of the Demodads).  The rest of us get to pay thirty dawouns a gallon on gas; and nobody would know how to drive out of this town since there are no travelable roads to get anywhere.”

“Wait!” said Thope. “I might as well ask before I forget: you get all self-righteous insinuating we’re up to no good.  You still haven’t answered some of our questions:  how do you know all this?  You obviously aren’t as dumb as the other mindless yokels kicking around here.  Don’t act like you don’t know anything!”

 “I never said I didn’t,” said Consuelo.  He seemed irritated. “Like I said, I’m guessing you’ve got a bigger purpose here.  Now, I may happen to know a little bit about what’s up.” By his body language, it was plain that Consuelo wanted to tell them something important, but he was still hesitant – as if he didn’t want to carelessly spill out information he may live to regret.  But his hints describing the deeper activities going on in this city filled the four travelers with  questions about what was really laying behind the scenes in Cercor Town. 

   

“At any rate,” Consuelo continued, “I’ve pretty much summed the basics you need to know about this purgatory.  You’re welcome…thank you!” he added to Chilley-Sue. She had been sent to ask Palafel for more sandwiches on behalf of his cousin.   Using Thope’s money, she had returned with a few which he immediately stuffed in his handbag.  Although not hungry, she was now wishing she had ordered one for herself. 

“Things are run here by those who have the power,” Consuelo went on.  “Everything else around here is distraction; let them live the soft life: it’s the perfect way to reduce everybody as a threat.” The man put his drink down and rubbed his eyes hard with his knuckles. “Maybe I’ve said too much.”

 “No; not at all, because you’re not making much sense anyway,” Thope replied rather callously.

 “Well keep explaining, and we’ll let you know if you are,” added Ivonne.  “But you’re basically saying the…warlords of this city, got their control down to science; that’s what you mean?”  Conseulo nodded as he sipped his drink.

 “Or what exactly do you mean, ‘soft life?’” asked Chilley.   Their host still seemed very elusive, but amidst his babble, they finally got the idea who was really running this metropolis.

“Yeah; they really are the shot callers around here,” Consuelo concluded while the four companions finished their dinner.  “The Demodads I mean.  Them and their top minions that they call ‘Curators’.   But I don’t feel like getting killed, so I will say no more; especially if none of you really care.  There are plenty of ears in this city with nothing better to do than rat you out.” 

“Hey, don’t leave us hanging like that!” said Ivonne; he had obviously gotten her attention with the whole Zazax tragedy going on in the city. “You obviously know a lot about the corruption.  I don’t see why we don’t have time to learn more,” she said looking at the others. “We can pay you. We can go to a more quiet location, but come on; now you got to tell us more!  We’ll get you extra Pepitos to take home with you.”

 Consuelo stood up and put out his hand.  “When did reality get so bad?” he wondered.  “There’s only a few things in life left that will –"

 "Go!” said Thope as he handed him change. “Go order the f@&%ng things.”  While their host excitedly ran to the counter, Thope addressed the others.

“Do we trust this guy, or are we just wasting our time?”

“I don’t know,” said Ivonne.  “He seems to be connected. His conspiracy theories seem spot on.  I think we should meet some acquaintances of his and see what happens.  Chilley, it’s your adventure.  What do you want to do?”

 Chilley-Sue looked at them nervously. “What do you want me to say?  I have no idea what to do anyway.  You’re all better than I am!”  She could see their host talking up a storm with his cousin by the cash register.  “You think maybe he’s a scoundrel?”

“Scoundrel?” Thope asked her.  “What are you? Princes---"

“Trouble I mean!” She was troubled in thought. “Those sandwiches are expensive.; they would make anybody in this city do anything for a pile of them.  Seto, what do you think?”

 Nobody wanted to be the one to screw this up. “I think we should go with the opportunity that was placed in front of us,” Seto replied.  “I don’t sense he’s hostile, or that cunning either: he babbles way too much for a mole.  I say we go see whoever he feels like introducing us to.”

 “Fine!” cried Thope. “But if we’re buying any more of those stupid things, that’s up to you to come up with the money, because I don’t want to be working the streets again.”

 

***

Consuelo didn’t continue talking until he had an order of two more Pepitos placed in his hands.  They had to wait until he pushed away his plate with a sigh of satisfaction.

   “Alright,” he continued at last as he picked his teeth. “Just like the stories of secret societies of the rich back home, some even theorize that these warlords are members of some higher order that’s preparing the rest of the world for the inevitable.”

  “Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard that theory,” said Ivonne.  “Agenda 21…all that crap; years ago.”

  “Agenda 21,” Consuelo said smiling.  “I remember hearing about that as a kid.  It confused the shit out of so many people.  By the time everyone caught on, it was too late; they switched the game plan.  No, no… think of all this as Agenda 22.”

 “?”

 “I thought that had been done too,” said Seto.

 “Not the way you think it had,” said Consuelo.  “I can’t tell you everything about it.  None of my sources can fully piece everything.  But something about preparing for a time cycle: if that’s true, then that’s explains all the stupid religions coming out of the woodwork!  One of my associates I know thinks that pretty soon all these Zazax junkies will somehow run rampant and infect others as carriers of germ warfare.” If Consuelo was looking for a shock reaction from his guests he was partially disappointed. Chilley, Ivonne, and Seto seemed attentive, but Thope’s eyes had rolled and he was now staring out the window.   Like walking time bombs, they will eventually be displaced to remote areas outside of this city.  At that point, not even the dangers of Anakaland may be able to stop such an exodus.  And when that happens, they will infect everyone else with a similar biohazard --- one turning everyone else into their subservient drones.  They just allow the rest of us to continue living ‘normally’ so they won’t arouse too much suspicion.

“Wait a minute!” said Ivonne.  “Come on now, be real about it!  Thope brings up a good point: if this is all so dangerous, how do you know about of all this?  You kind of have to show some proof of this.  Are you truly part of some resistance?”

 “And if so, where the hell are the rest of your motley crew already?” Thope demanded.  He looked at the others and was ready to get up. “We’re wasting our time! Come on ---”

 “Sit down!” Seto advised him. But despite Thope’s overwhelming presence, Consuelo did not seem daunted in the least by him.  He only looked around before he leaned forward even more.  If he had still been wearing it, he most certainly would have poked Ivonne’s eye out with his big hat.   “You take me for a yokel, but that’s your fault for judging people by appearance.  Let’s just say I know a lot about more crap than you can imagine.”  He scoffed at Thope.  “More than you, obviously.”

 “I’d say you know a lot about crap alright,” said Thope.  He still wasn’t convinced about their host.  He felt it was beneath them to waste any energy on this local: if it was up to him, they’d be heading towards the center to seek out the Grand Directory.

 “This jock here is a pretentious fool,” Consuelo warned the others.  “Yes, I do know things, and assuming you’re not who I thought you were, we could still use your help.  I could lead you to places where you could learn more besides.  We could use the help.”

 “So who are you?” Seto asked with complete sincerity.

 “Can’t you tell already?” asked Consuelo.  “I am one of the few that made it out here from the Boring Realms southeast of here. Southeast of here, on the other side of the rainbow, apparently,” he said as he rolled his eyes and shook his head.  “I’m guessing that would at least explain your accent,” he added as he looked at Chilley-Sue rather disdainfully. “I was just a kid when I came here:  twenty-one years old with a group of friends.  Taking a direct southern route to get here…”

  Consuelo finished his drink and looked at Thope in the eye.  “You still think I’m full of shit?  Do you want to hear more about the authorities?”   At that point, Consuelo’s tragic testimonial about the city’s corruption  was so wretchedly dismal that Chilley-Sue and her companions simply let him get it all of his system and continue talking until Seto finally broke in. 

  “There is one thing that I still do not understand,” he said.  “Those people that attacked us outside.  They acted like they were mindless. You mentioned how all the people under the influence of this Zazax find themselves stumbling to these caves and doing some sort of slave work for the local warlords.  Do they get stimulated to do violence as well?”

“No,” Consuelo replied. “At least not that I know; maybe.  I mean the sandwiches here, as you just saw, are really that good.”

 “But those people couldn’t be reasoned with,” Ivonne broke in.  “What drove them to practically irrational levels to want to kill us?”

  “I already shared with you what I know,” said Consuelo.  “Other than that, I can’t really say.  Maybe it’s your roided out friend here in the Egyptian headdress.  Nobody likes a dick,” he added.   Thope was about to retaliate, but Seto sat him down and grinned.  He liked this dude: fearless and resourceful.

Excerpt from Book V:  Concrete Forest of the Ancient World

Copyright 2019 Octavio Rhodes 

"Note the excerpts have been slightly edited and abridged for non spoiler content"

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