Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Men Who Fell in Buses

The Confederation spans the great continent of Zaiul, bordered to the north by the Principality of Stallisfair and to the south by Tyranus. Its two greatest cities lie at opposite ends of the nation: La flourishes along the rocky, wind-tossed northeast coast, while Callidar basks in the sunshine and ocean breezes of the sandy southwestern shoreline. Both cities, like the nation, are rich, though vastly different in character. To understand these differences, we must first understand the story of the men who fell in buses: one in Callidar, and one in La.

The city of La is new. Her gleaming golden skyscrapers and arching, winged towers are modern, her culture cosmopolitan. La is the home of the Confederation's artists and engineers, its philosophers and scientists. The people of La pride themselves on their compassion and rationality. Life in La is good, and the people, for the most part, are happy.

The city of Callidar is old - older than the Confederation itself, by many centuries. Her castles and walls are ancient, weathered by time, and even the new buildings are deliberately constructed to echo times past. Her culture is traditional, with sacred rituals celebrated daily. Callidar is the home of the Confederation's entrepreneurs and writers, its explorers, healers and historians. The people of Callidar pride themselves on their wisdom and love. Life in Callidar is good, and the people, for the most part, are happy.

Both cities feature efficient and comfortable public transit, to ferry citizens to and fro from business to pleasure and everywhere in between. The service is reliable and fairly priced, and indeed so popular that its own success has led to one significant drawback: there's rarely a free seat.

In the city of La there lived an entertainer named Natit. Natit was young and fit, and could have endured many minutes of standing in the aisle of a crowded bus. But Natit was lazy. And so one day Natit, fuming over the perceived injustice of being forced to stand, hatched a clever plan.

One morning, Natit boarded the bus and squeezed himself between two other riders standing midway down the aisle of the bus. He clasped the overhead safety strap and waited.

When the bus made its first sharp turn, Natit cried out "Oh!" and allowed himself to fall, propelled by force into the laps of two passengers seated nearby. "I'm so sorry!" Natit cried, helping the stunned citizens gather up their belongings from the floor. Then Natit took his place in the aisle again, smiling weak apologies at those he'd disturbed.

Then, when the bus came to a sudden stop for crossing pedestrians, Natit allowed the inertia to fling him headlong down the aisle. He landed with a crash.

"Young man, are you all right?" asked another passenger.

"Yes, yes," said Natit, climbing to his feet. "I'm so sorry. I seem to have developed a problem with my inner ear, and so it's very hard for me to retain my balance."

Several passengers made sympathetic noises at this, and many offered their seats. Natit held up his hands and said he couldn't possibly take anyone's seat, but the chorus was unanimous: sit, sit.

And so Natit, by deception, prospered, and never again did he lack a seat on the bus.

At nearly the same time, in faraway Callidar, another man relied on the bus. This man, an aging marine biologist named Eldir, one day developed an infection of the inner ear that went undiagnosed and permanently disrupted his sense of balance. After years of riding his bus from home to the oceanographic institute and back without mishap, Eldir suddenly found himself teetering over like a felled tree the moment his bus took even a gentle turn. Like Natit, Eldir found himself crashing to the floor or falling across the laps or shoulders of his fellow passengers.

But on the buses of Callidar, poor Eldir found no sympathy.

"Faker!" cried his fellow passengers. "Charlatan!" "Shame!" Eldir repeated his heartfelt apologies daily, but in the end he joined a car pool and rode in safety - though at greater expense. And so Eldir, by disability, suffered, and never again did he enjoy the communion of bus riders.

Why then did the rational people of La not recognize the probability that lazy Natit was lying? And why did the loving souls of Callidar not see the truth of honest Eldir's condition?

The answer lies between the lines, dear reader.

4 comments:

"The Jeffterpiece Society" said...

David Kilo Niner closed the viewie on his learndesk and raised his right hand high. "But sir, I don't understand. What is the answer to the question?"

Tutorbot sighed internally, a near-impossibility, yet the unprogrammed action saved his integretronic circuits from an overheat. Kilo Niner was a good learner, but not a fast one. In ten years, the child would certainly draft for MIL-OPS, non-commissioned of course. Tutorbot patiently re-opened the viewie and resampled the input.

The viewie began:

"Qa'un was rumored to be three hundred years old before the Q'in Unification, and he was a General for two hundred years after that. By that time, he acquired a young Captain who had much potential in Qa'un's eyes, but little experience in matters of the world.

Bringing the Captain into his tent, the mighty General sealed the order on the commission scroll with Imperial wax.

-This is for you, said Qa'un, I command you to travel to the end of our land. It will take you one thousand days. At the end of this journey, you shall return to me and report on what you have seen.

The Captain bowed and left. He traveled for one thousand days and beheld many wondrous sights of the land.

At the edge of the frontier, the Captain spied a great cloud of dust in the desert. Crossing the border into the alien region, the Captain saw the cloud as the result of a massive land battle between two foes who wore unrecognizable coats.

At least the barbarians were civilized enough to adhere to the Articles of War, so that by riding under the white flag of truce, the Captain was able to survey both sides.

The Western front was dominated by a massive wall of expertly cut stone and logs fitted into a rampart many times taller than a man. Along the Eastern front stood warriors for as far as the eye could see, and every man was hurling bombs and spears at the wall as fast as ever they could.
The wall repelled all attacks. The tall, well-groomed Western Commander told the Captain that the wall had held off the Eastern assault for many years. However, the number of engineers required to

maintain the wall had dwindled dangerously low, and the wall was in peril of being breached within the next five years or so of fighting.

The Eastern Commander, muscular and active, explained to the Captain that their many legions were on the verge of finally taking down the wall. Unfortunately, the Eastern forces had only enough reserve armies to keep the offensive going for possibly five more years, at which point there would be no more men left able to fight.

Taking his leave with as much courtesy he could muster, the Captain bid good-bye to the two Commanders and returned home. Despite the return ride of a thousand days, the way back to base camp seemed much shorter than the journey out to the frontier.

"The Jeffterpiece Society" (a) said...

CONT'D FROM ABOVE...

General Qa'un was pleased to see the Captain again.

-And what did you see on your journey?

-Sir, I beg to report I saw to armies fighting in the desert. One was protected by an impressive rampart that will soon fail due to lack of repair. The other army consisted of many men, but the war exhausts them and they cannot last.

-Please give me your analysis.

-Sir, I believe that if we were to mass the Imperial Brigades and march, we could easily overcome both sides at once and take their lands. Although the march would be very long, we would be assured of success, for the frontier lands have made themselves weak with fighting.

The General considered his Captain's words. He was not pleased.

-You have not learned, Captain. I had expected more from you. I have been aware of the battle on the edge of our land for some time. Certainly the barbarians would prove an easy conquest. But what then? They are a fractious, proud people who stand unmoving upon their opposing principles.
Once we rebuilt their cities, they would resist our rule and revolt. And then where would we be?
Our Imperial Brigades would be consumed with a war too distant from home.

So chastened, the Captain turned quietly red.

-I see sir. Forgive me for my impudence. What shall we do?

-It is the Will of the Emperor that we send material aid to the region. You will organize a caravan of food and basic goods to help both sides. Through these means, these people will come to respect and admire the Emperor. Perhaps by then they will be fit to join Q'in. Do you see, Captain? There is right and wrong in the world, but both sides can be right and both sides can be wrong. These cancel out. The warm water of life flows beneath harsh ice. With warmth, the ice breaks and melts, leaving the water to choose its own course. Q'in is much the same, my dear Captain, so do not look so upset. The true power in the world is amity, not enmity. We must be the free-running water that surges beneath the ice of impassivity. The Emperor loves us all.
There lies your answer."

Earl J. Woods said...

Beautiful.

"The Jeffterpiece Society" (b) said...

I love metaphor, and I groove on parables, and enjoy most of all nested narratives, which bring both of those forms together. They are powerfully difficult to write, though.

"The Men Who Fell In Buses" is a tremendous thought-provoking piece and very well-written. It got stuck in my head for days. After pondering, I felt that this story might return a fraction of the thought that went into your piece.

Thanks for sharing it! I look forward to more, of course.