THE MORAL INDIVIDUAL

Plans

The Arnaults were obviously upset, but decided, no matter what happened, they were not going to pay the Trashers anything. They had no idea what they would do, but they knew they could neither trust the Trashers or accept any terms accept the return of their daughter unharmed. They refused to even respond to the outrageous demand of the Trashers.



"Are you still going to climb Stove Pipe Hill," Briana asked Connor.

"I am and it may be more important than ever now."

"Why more important now?"

"Because I've been thinking about where Brittany could possibly have been taken. I don't believe in hunches or intuition, but I believe in ideas that come from thinking like, 'if I were a Trasher, where would I go. It would be someplace no one would expect or perhaps be able to get to.'" Connor explained.

"Like the building on the top of Stove Pipe Hill."

"It's possible."

"Oh, Connor, Darling, do you think that's where she is?" Briana asked.

"I don't know, but there's only one way to find out."

"To climb up and have a look," Briana said. Then, "Should we tell the others?"

"We have to, Briana. They need to know the risk. I won't blame them if they change their minds."

"I almost wish Philip would. He's so good and strong and sincere, but he's a klutz," Briana said.

Connor hugged Briana and kissed her. "We can't all be as talented and wonderful as you, Sweetheart."

"Humph!" she said.

Connor chuckled then said, "do you remember I said I want to be prepared before we going back to the top of the hill?"

"Yes," she said. "Well that means a visit to Uncle Anthony. There must be some kind of historical record of that building on that hill. It's certainly not recent."

"The Other thing is how we should be armed. If it's Trashers, they are not likely to be very cordial. For that I think we need to talk to my father and Uncle Eddy.



Anthony was nothing like his sister Jasmine, but he once shared a wonderful adventure with her and her husband Lester, Eddy, Yuwon, and Veronica, of whom he was always fond, and adored her daughters Brittany and Briana.

"We'd be delighted to see you, Briana. Can you come this weekend, perhaps for dinner," Anthony said when she called.

"I'd love to, and will if that's what you'd like, but the visit isn't strictly social, and Connor will be coming with me."

"Good, good," he said. "Elaine would love to see you both."

"Uncle Anthony, it's about research."

"Research. What kind of research?" he asked.

"About the history of Stove Pipe Hill. There's a building on it, an old building. Connor thought you might have something about it in your history records."

"How do you know there's a building on Stove Pipe Hill?" Anthony asked.

"Connor climbed the hill and saw it," she said.

There was silence."Uncle Anthony?" she said when he did not answer.

"Oh, sorry, Briana. I was just thinking. Connor sounds like his father, not afraid of anything and certain he can do anything, and he usually can too. But that changes everything. Can you and Connor come for lunch Saturday, so we'll have some time to do that research. I'm interested too.

Briana thanked Anthony and said she and Connor would be there.



"Thank you Darling," Connor said when Briana told him about the arrangements. "I don't know Uncle Anthony as well the others, and I know no one can say no to you."

"You mean you were just using me?" Briana said.

"Yup," is all he said.

"I'm glad you want to use me, Connor. It's what I'm loving you for, just to be used by you in any way you please."

"Oh, Briana, you are wonderful, and he hugged her."

"Now we'll see my father and Uncle Eddy. I think I can arrange those visits."



Anthony Described all he found out about the ancient religious order, a precursor to Klomanism, that was associated with the building on Stove Pipe Hill. The building was a monastery, very secretive and reclusive. It was assumed when the old religions were merged into three current religions by the Forbidders, they simply died or disbanded.

There was apparently a hidden way to the monastery, but there was no record of where or what it was, but it was described as a kind of tunnel.



Since members of all four families were now involved in Connor and Briana's planned climb, all four families were invited to the Blakes'. Lester insisted that everyone visit their home for a change, which they did. The Arnaults and Jacksons felt perfectly comfortable in the more elegant atmosphere of the Moore's home. Eddy and Yuwon were not uncomfortable, but would have preferred the totally casual atmosphere of their own farm.

Megan, Connor's older sister was there of course, as well as both Kenny and Nancy Jackson, but only Philip, Liz, and Naomi Blake were there. Trish was very serious about studying and volunteered to stay home and look after the two youngest Blakes, Ray and Teresa.

After dinner everyone moved to the enormous living room where they easily found seats. Connor and Briana chose a love seat from which everyone could both see and talk to them. Connor described to them all they knew about Stove Top Hill, the building, the history they learned from Anthony, and their suspicion the building was now occupied by New Nebetrastians or "Trashers."

Before going further, Connor turned to Megan and Philip, who were sitting on another love seat. "We wanted you to know what the new danger is. I'm sure you could both make the climb, but the new danger is possibly having to face Trashers who will not be at all pleased to see us, and have no compunction about killing people. You're both still welcome to come, but please do not if you are not sure you want to face that kind of danger."

Megan and Philip looked at each other, and Connor noticed for the first time, they were holding hands. "We're going," Philip said.

"That brings us to the second reason for us all being here. Since there is a chance we'll be facing Trashers, we'll need some kind of defense. I was originally planning on talking to Dad and Lester alone, but you deserve to know what is going on, especially Uncle Peter and Aunt Veronica. If Stove Pipe Hill is where the Trashers have their headquarters, it is probably where they are holding Brittany. I honestly doubt our climbing the hill will enable us to rescue her, but we hope we can learn if that is where she is.

"Well, we already know what Eddy is going to say," Lester said.

"'Shoot 'em,' Jasmine said, winking at Eddy.

"My darling Jasmine is right, as always. If it comes to that, it would be the answer," Eddy said. "The best thing would be to not get caught. And the best way to not get caught is to not be where you can get caught."

"What are you suggesting, Eddy?" Yuwon asked. "That they not make the climb? It's not what you told me about your adventure in the Shealist temple, and it's not what you said about our going to ChildIsle? Have you grown old and cautious?"

Yuwon was sitting next to Eddy, almost in his lap. Eddy turned and kissed her," well I am a little older, but if it were my choice I'd climb that hill, and carry a gun, and shoot every last Trasher I could. It wasn't a suggestion, only pointing out a fact. I just want to make sure they believe the objective is worth the risk."

"Thank you Uncle Eddy," Connor said. "You're right. It's why I had to make sure Megan and Philip new the risk, but I think we all believe it's worth the risk. I don't want to offend you, Uncle Peter and Aunt Veronica, but I had to weigh the risk to Briana and the others against possibly saving Brittany. We all love Brittany, but if I thought I'd lose Briana I'd never consider the climb. I believe we can do it, and both Briana and I want to do it.

"Eddy's right, though. You don't have to intend to shoot them, but you will have to be armed," Lester said. "I know you all know how to use a gun. Do you have good light ones you can carry on your climb?"

"Yes!" Connor and Philip said. "No," Briana and Megan said.

"Before you leave I'll provide you both with guns," he said to Megan and Briana, "but I expect you to pay me for them before the climb."

"After all, can't expect him to be climbing up that hill looking for them if you don't come back," Freddy said.

All this time, the Arnaults had said very little. Veronica finally said, "I'm not happy about this at all. Brittany is gone and I just don't want to risk losing Briana too. But I would never attempt to stop her and Connor from doing what they must."

Briana went to hug her mother. "Thank you Mom," she said.

"That goes for me too, Briana," her father said, and Briana hugged him too.



Veronica had invited Connor to dinner, and after dinner he and Briana were left alone in the Arnault's living room. Briana was content sitting beside Connor, holding his hand, with her head on his shoulder. She was very quiet.

"Are you worried about the climb tomorrow, Darling?" Connor asked her.

"No. I wasn't thinking about that at all," she said.

"Really? Something's on your mind."

"I was thinking about Megan and Philip."

"Oh, you mean their holding hands."

"It's more than that, Connor. They're in love. Didn't you see it?"

"Now that you mention it, I did, but I wasn't thinking about it. I never would have guessed my sister would have fallen in love with Philip."

"They aren't that different really," Briana said. "There's no one more sincere or courageous than Philip and Megan is so discerning, like you. She knows Philip is genuine. I think it must have happened when when they were talking about joining the climb."

"Oh, Briana. You are such a romantic. What do you mean by 'it must have happened?' Love is not something that happens to you, its something you do."

"Oh I know that. They've probably been in love for a long time, just the way I was in love with you without us declaring it, until that day you held my hand and walked me to chem lab. I mean I think they finally declared their love for each other when talking about the climb."



Of course, the real reason Philip and Megan had not discovered, or at least expressed their love for each other earlier, was because they believed they were cousins. Megan always called Philip's father Uncle Eddy and they both assumed, if Philip's father was Megan's uncle, they were cousins. What finally freed them from this mistake, you may recall, was Briana, who explained to Megan that everyone called her uncle, Uncle Eddy, but that they were not really related at all.

***