Egon, still sitting on the bus which was grinding through the traffic to deliver him to his destiny, heard on the radio that he was dead. The emergency was officially over. The man arrested earlier by the coast guard, the man who had been on a fizz boat approaching Parkes Pilkem, had confessed to being Egon Turow, an astral intent on glorsting.
"That was quick," said Egon to himself, impressed by the speed at which the confession had been obtained.
Egon, never having been tortured, had no idea what a marvelous instrument torture is for swiftly and efficiently arriving at the truth. Want to improve your crime-solve statistics? Start breaking those fingers!
The closer Egon drew to his destination, the better he felt. He was going to die. He was going to glorst for glory. He was going to become an astral martyr, and, as a religious man, he knew his fate was to end up in Yafla Herig, the Carnival Paradise, where his eternity would be parades and fireworks shows, midnight parties with drunken tubas, and flowerboat entertainments on the River of Dreams.
Any deeply religious hardline astral fanatic would have thought Egon's expectations to be entirely reasonable, and would have judged Egon to be making the rational choice of a sane man. However, although such fanatics existed, they did not go around blowing themselves up. They were like potential serial killers who had not yet started killing, who had not yet found the spur that would prompt them to move from fantasy to action.
The fanatics of Oolong Morblock were sane.
But Egon was not.
And that was why Egon, the madman, was the one who took the initiative and acted first.
Egon Turow was mentally ill, and the reason for this was that he had, unknowingly, been poisoning himself for some time by eating valsada denbok, a herb which was a constituent in the cans of curry-flavored tuna which he had been eating for the last seventeen months.
Unfortunately, Egon had a rare metabolic problem which made it impossible for him to properly process one of the chemical compounds found in valsada denbok. When he ingested this chemical, the result was that his body manufactured toxins which, slowly but surely, had been poisoning him, with the result that he was mentally ill, the consequence of his illness being that his fantasies had strengthened, weakening the grip of the real world, the mundane world in which he played computer games, ran his weather forecasting business, and collected sickness benefits in his own name and in the names, also, of two imaginary women, who existed on the welfare computers because Egon had, by a complex process involving forgery and perjury, invented them.
Mad, then, but feeling totally well-balanced, and, additionally, happier than he had ever been before in his life, Egon headed toward his destiny.
Mental illness coupled with the ability to blow yourself up: not a happy combination. People who were known to suffer from such a potentially fatal constellation of attributes generally ended up in Gorgel Yoga, the lunatic asylum on the island of Sclag, where they were kept drugged by grogs to keep their paranormal abilities suppressed.
But there was no national screening program to detect astrals with mental problems, so people who were going quietly mad in the privacy of their own homes did not attract the attention of the authorities.
Additionally, it was not legal for the state to compile a list of glorst-capable astrals. That was specifically forbidden by the Constitution, on the grounds that any such list, if it were to exist, would, sooner or later, become the basis for a pogrom. And nobody was in a hurry to try to rewrite the Constitution.
The Constitution was a product of the bloodiest phase of Oolong Morblock's history. It was, in effect, a peace treaty -- the document whereby the powers of Oolong Morblock had hammered out a compromise which would permit peace. That had been way back when, at the end of the Torment Times. Even now, generations later, the inhibitions against disturbing the fragile security offered by the Constitution ran deep. Nobody wished to see Oolong Morblock turned into a carnage ground.
So, while a register of glorst-capable astrals might have been a rational thing (though to assemble it would have required glorst-capable astrals to honestly confess to their own nature) it was a non-starter. Therefore Egon, unmonitored and effectively unknown to the state, had lived his unsupervised life in privacy, and had gone mad.
Feeling perfectly sane and well-balanced, Egon reached the end of his journey. He got off the bus at Sekigahara, attracting the notice of nobody. For one thing, the hunt for Egon Turow was officially over: officially, he had been captured by the coast guard. For another thing, Egon was disguised. His disguise was very simple but effective: a bright orange wig, blue lipstick and green-tinted sunglasses.
Egon found the place he was looking for, the Garden of Innocent Smiles. He had looked at its web site where, unwisely, the timetable of the daily routine was posted. The Early Mothers, those who left their children in daycare for only the first part of the day, would be along in an hour to collect their children. That was when Egon would have the target he was looking for: the children of the norms, Xalbardoz little ones, out in the open.
"Annihilation meat," said Egon, licking his lips.
But if he hung about in the open for an hour then he might attract suspicion. Fortunately, there was a fantasy parlor just across the road from the daycare center, and Egon went inside to play with the computers while he waited.
This was not a soft fantasy parlor but a place devoted to hard fantasy: the business of destruction. Soft fantasy was considered to be not quite wholesome, but games involving mayhem and murder were entirely respectable. Violence was the sacred value at the core of global civilization. If that were not so, why would military expenditure bulk so large in the budgets of the nations of Lox Oxberg?
On schedule, Egon emerged from the parlor, games over, and crossed the road to the daycare center, being careful not to get killed in the process. It would have been tragic to get run down when he was so close to his goal. Mothers were milling out of the gates of the daycare center, their children in strollers or toddling along beside them.
And Egon -- now he had come to the moment, it was very easy to do -- let the rages of his lifetime dominate. The red heat of rage surged through his body. And he exploded.
In the aftermath, baby Paffita Strong lay in a shatter of blood, mauled to rags. She had no arms. Just frayed flippers of shredded meat, wet with glistening red. No arms and no cry, no squalling. Baby Paffita was in shock.
Shortly, an ambulance pulled up, the medics arriving in time to save Paffita for a life as an armless person, for surgery and skin grafts and blood transfusions, for disfigurement and pain, for a life of loss, always the loss of the wrecked life to be mourned.
Chino Ziggurat, a freelance video reporter who chased ambulances for a living, filmed the rescue of baby Paffita. He knew who would pay the best money: Conflux One. And so baby Paffita was launched on her public life, destined to be a transitory media star, a child of the Xalbardoz, a child of the normative majority, hideously maimed by an act of astral terrorism.