Carver walked behind me and took hold of my wrists. “I’m going to cut your bonds at this time,” he said. “But before I do, I want your assurance that you will behave with civility. You and I have much to discuss, and that is not facilitated by violence. Do I have your assurance?”
I wasn’t sure why Carver thought I was in any position to threaten him, even if my bonds were removed. Maybe he was being polite. In any case, I was far too intrigued at this point to want to fight. I nodded. Then, when Carver made no move, I said, “Yes, you have my assurance.”
“Thank you,” said Carver, and set about cutting the various cords that bound me. It felt good to be free again. I stood up and stretched a little bit, apparently too quickly, as my head started to swim. I sat down again and pulled the pinky binder off of my right hand. Carver, who had walked back to his own chair, tensed up a little bit when he saw me going for my finger.
“I’m just getting something for my headache,” I said. Without making sudden movements, I slowly produced a bottle of painkiller and showed it to him. He relaxed visibly. I popped a couple and waited for them to start working.
Carver sat down. “I am sorry about the crack to the skull,” he said. “I misjudged the size of the room.”
“It’s nothing,” I said. “By all means, let us have our discussion.”
“Very well,” said Carver. “I am the leader of a clandestine organization that operates within the League. The organization is called the Armored Bilge, and we work behind the scenes for the greater good, or what we believe to be the greater good, when the League fails to do so.”
“How often does that happen?” I asked.
“More often than the Armored Bilge would like. Hence our existence.”
“Why the secrecy?” I asked. “Why not just strike out on your own?”
“It’s been discussed from time to time, but ultimately, we are a self-correcting force in the League. In order to fulfill our goals and do the most good, we must remain a part of the organization we seek to shepherd.”
“What’s all this got to do with me?”
Carver smiled. “You have been considered for membership for some years now. It was not until very recently that I sought to test you, however. In the past, you always seemed a bit confrontational.”
I shrugged. “What can I say? I was a bit of a turd.”
“As you say,” Carver chuckled. “the test, as you may have surmised by now, involves engaging the candidate with perplexing or confusing language and gauging their reaction.”
“So all that nonsense was just you testing me for membership in the Armored Bilge?” I asked. Carver nodded. I frowned, perplexed. “But why use nonsense?”
“For two reasons,” Carver replied. “First, it allows us to test candidates without revealing ourselves in any way. Second, and more importantly, we of the Armored Bilge are absurdists. We feel that the bewildering power of the unexpected can be a force for positive change in the world. And more to the point, in the League.”
“What if I don’t want to join?”
Carver shrugged. “Then you don’t join. I assume you do not wish to do so?”
I nodded. “I’m honored to be invited, but I’m afraid I don’t share your guiding philosophy. Weirdness is to be endured, not embraced.”
“I’m not terribly surprised,” said Carver. “It’s unfortunate though; you have a gift for absurdity. You tested very well.”
“Thanks,” I said. I was relieved that I had not given offence by declining the offer. There was a slightly awkward silence, which I broke. “So what happens now?”
“I am authorized to place the Armored Bilge at your disposal. We of the Bilge are pro-Toast, and the outcome of your current quest is of great concern to us. The very fate of toast itself hangs in the balance. Call upon us if you have need, and we will answer.”