If a person wishes to behold the difference between rulership of herds of people and rulership of a nation, show them two things: the Trisected Republic, and anywhere else.
Unlike many other child holdings of Bequast, this place had very little reason in its ceaseless contention.
Three divisions contested everything, absolutely everything, in the Republic. Height, the magenta waves; Breadth, the yellow trapezoids; Width, the blue spirals. These were, of course, only token identifiers of each such faction. A species without sight or any sort of analogue would quickly learn to recognize various pitches and frequencies as characteristic of each. Patterns of flag-waving, idioms and adages, favored foods, favored rhythms, favored retro-style augmented reality, manners of sitting and standing and stooping.
Grandfather Apple perched atop a messily three-colored bench on a high balcony. It overlooked a massive messily three-colored plaza. Communicating a silent dignity with his carefully straightened clothing, he gazed out at the treble hues of distant sunset mayhem. He was dealing in ART as he sat there, though of a different sort from his usual pursuits.
The scene in question involved some highly motivated participants. They were a very heterogeneous group of grotesquely robotics-enhanced gangbangers, primarily Height and Width. Many carried weapons with their artificial limbs. These weapons were pneumatic aerosol dispensers and splatterball guns. Many also possessed capable spoofing utilities to screw around with projections and digital displays. Magi stood in strategic positions to either thaumaturgically sway the tide or give the false impression that they were doing so.
A few actual weapons were in evidence – Grandfather Apple noticed a few quad rifles and barb-launchers and at least one hand-magicannon. But he suspected they’d stick to their more metaphorical guns. The prize at the center of the plaza was their real goal.
No, that wasn’t quite true. Their real goal, like much of the Trisected Republic’s foolishness, was to try and change minds by having more representation… and the best way to gain representation in the Republic was with very ostentatious displays. Actually altering the color of the scenery was a favorite, but from the hooligans’ perspective the true point lay in out-acting each other.
The miracle was that these methods did in fact shift public opinion by a nonzero percent.
“So… what do you think’s the deal with the kid?” asked Grandfather Apple’s son-in-law, on the bench beside him. “Anger? Hospitality? Fear?”
Dotorov Richard sounded… not so much like moroseness, as genuine hope to feel pride in one’s relatives despite a cavalcade of shameful behaviors. The seal of Glencorps’s Transportation and Logistics department glinted on his lapel. Its ornate trim proclaimed many years of profitable teaching and practice.
“Those are applicable, but they’re appendages, I think.”
“Don’t speak around it in riddles, just get to it. Would I be here if I understood him and his situation half as well as I want to?”
Implicit, of course, was: “If we were really as close as I’d prefer, would I have been kept in the dark about life-altering disability?”
“No. Though I have to say…”
Heran Dwisrol gestured in Dotorov’s direction, a slinking arachnomechanical switch to the gesture when he pushed his hand forward, unfurling each elegant finger in succession.
“… it speaks well of your devotion, coming out to this distant corner of perdition.”
“Take ‘em down, skin eaters!”
The war of Height and Width began to heat up as blistering packets of pigmentation went back and forth.
Whichever gained dominance would be able to do as they pleased with the central feature of the plaza. The Maker’s creation that people called the Taupe Wrasse was an esoteric musical accomplishment. While the original could be found in Ilsabal Square, the massive fish-shaped reproduction also made psychic music that completely bypassed the ears. Unlike the original, it didn’t carry a soul-deep component that made each listener prone to odd sadly sanguine epiphanies.
Also unlike the original, there was nothing taupe whatsoever left on this wrasse.
“You know what, nevermind. Let’s take care of business; maybe that’s going to give me the insight I need. So how exactly are we going to do this?”
Dotorov sounded gruff and cheerily annoyed. Grandfather Apple obliged him.
“Simple enough in principle. You know how, when a major problem arises in Bequast, the Naléli tend to combat it?”
“By stopping the people from doing whatever it is they’re doing.”
Grandfather Apple cooked up an especially amused look for his son-in-law.
Dotorov’s hands went skyward, the motion happening to coincide with a flurry of shots from down below. Nonlethal wounds appeared on the walls and walkways and not a couple people, shouting, laughing, raging. Bits of the big fish lookalike started blooming with completely unsolicited changes of palette.
“Well, if you want a different answer, then maybe ASK THE QUESTION DIFFERENTLY.”
“A decent enough point. Say that I’m a Naléli and hear about a bunch of people trying to figure out how to manufacture components for an unlicensed ex nihilo engine. Say that the perpetrators are financing their computational concerns with the distribution of… milk teeth or heroin, or maybe some more dangerous substance. What would I do to stop them?”
“I’d say start drawing up statutes limiting the fabrication of anything that fits the characteristics of those components, or anything that could look like them, and then begin getting in touch with neighboring regions to coordinate legal maneuvers. Oh, and if those things start showing up, then detain those responsible.”
Dotorov’s thick brow curled, and he flinched back, as a splatterball burst abruptly died on the balcony’s overhang’s underside. Vibrant guts began dripping down on the seated men. Dotorov grimaced, and called up his dæmon cluster to eat the magenta before it got into his hair. Grandfather Apple simply grabbed the hem of his coat and swung up a short and awkwardly-sized awning. One hand suffered some staining along with the inside of his coattails – which was, of course, the end of the world.
“Also, crack down on drug distribution with treatment programs.”
Grandfather Apple scratched his neck with his pink hand. Strawberry stripes clawed down his throat as his mouth relaxed.
“Well, I’d say that’s not TOO bad, but it’s also not the best. Here’s the thing: mediocre Naléli try to make laws that react to effects and mitigate the problem by reducing symptoms. Good Naléli try to make laws that treat the cause instead. But great Naléli try to make laws which drum up sympathy for their favored solution without actually codifying anything directly related.”
He caught himself before he could belt out, “Great Naléli make ART.”
Dotorov looked at him with earnest frustration. His slow voice went dusty.
“I’m a simple man, Heran. I take back what I said. Don’t feed me insight like I’m a stipp and you’re a fruit, just tell me what I want to know as plainly as possible.”
Grandfather Apple pointed downward.
“Look at those punks. You know what they’re fighting over?”
He sent an article to Dotorov; a manifesto from some of the more vocal current Width spokespeople. It essentially said that the Republic ought to tag and deport as necessary any undead (Tufcich or otherwise) found in the territory.
Immediately on its heels he sent two more. The first of these came from a significant splinter group of the Width, calling for not just managing but eradicating all Tufcich specimens, then declaring practice or research of the discipline cause for summary execution. The second was a weird Breadth propaganda piece. It embraced the idea of a feral devolution to murder-factories as an improvement on the modern Republic.
Strange that these people were so hesitant to kill each other in their turf wars. Or maybe that was the most natural thing imaginable.
“The fight’s already well underway over the appropriate treatment of the reanimated, whether or not they had a direct hand in their resurrection. Jump into that scrum and there won’t even be a paste left. So… let’s look at a different place to take a stand. Mr. Eihks Richard’s gone on the record as a patron of the Gegaunli karkshes, yes? He’s – I daresay – made some very biting observations on the subject of ‘greed of spirit’ recently.”
“You want to have people take the side of the karkshes.”
“No. Well, yes, but that’s not the main objective. You’re approaching the issue from the wrong angle. Or the wrong depth, I suppose.”
Grandfather Apple waved into the air as the shouting evolved into run-ons of profanity. A few were even creative enough to employ the same pungent shout as a noun, a verb, an adjective, a conjunction, and a preposition in the space of single sentences.
“In Rhaagm, it’s even more horrifically expensive to expand and create new land than it is in Bequast or Yrdky. Factorial increase in complexity of reconciling disparate-physics operations as you move farther and farther away from the Tower, geometric increase in numbers of overlapping tuning fields, it’s an unhappy state of affairs, yes? It makes people very jealous of citizenship and having a place to call home, doesn’t it?”
“Did I NOT tell you to stop leading me to the conclusion you want? What’s your point, Heran?”
The older man simply couldn’t help himself. He kneaded his forehead.
“The Gegaunli populace had to get imported for the prevention of uncontrolled type nine events, and now they’re here. Eihks was killed and resurrected, and now he’s undead. I’ll make a bold assertion and say we shouldn’t consider killing or excommunicating them. Since we don’t have any miraculously foresightful temporal savepoints set up – and I don’t think Crippled False or the Olds are going to just turn the clock back for us – what options do you see for mitigating the issues of these two problems?” he uttered, monotone.
Before his son-in-law could protest – and possibly punch his father-in-law’s teeth in – he added, “What, precisely, can people do to nicely fix this situation of dead things and displaced mortals?”
Dotorov’s mouth opened, his nose squished, and his brow corrugated.
When the hour struck, it didn’t cut across any words.
As the clock chimed, the hooligans started showing the first danger signs of getting violent. Height members spread out and fired in spurts, Width forces coalesced next to the Taupe Wrasse for a massive push. A few made moves for their more lethal firearms, but nobody started throwing heat just yet. Ethereal music began sewing the air shut around the plaza as the fishy structure worked unusual magic.
Doors almost exploded outward. Breadth commandos burst onto the scene. Breadth guns suddenly opened up from a series of balconies opposite Heran and Dotorov.
Maybe a total of ten splatterball-slingers showed up with yellow as their weapon of choice. But they made up for it with firepower and opportunity. While the Height and Width forces were stuck in each others’ teeth, Breadth basted the scene in yellow. More than three quarters of the still-fresh pigment around the plaza got overlapped.
It wasn’t the sort of anticipatable event from which one could recover.
From Dotorov, it was a low slack-fingered groan. From Heran, it was a calm, chill observation.
“It’s just how things are, from now on,” Dotorov added. He watched the dripping chromatic blood with a punch-drunk objectivity.
Grandfather Apple leaned back, touching the lapels of his shirt.
“There’s no golden happy solution here. We go forward. But most importantly, as we make do, we don’t go asking for more trouble, or asking how we can HELP.”
He watched all of the Breadth representatives flee back into their respective strongholds. One pair, an executioner and a stumpy hudenot, exchanged up-signs of camaraderie. The executioner stayed behind, presumably to counter any attempts to undo the Breadth’s work.
“We ask how amenable these new citizens are to certain economic dealings, like renting their space for running clunky computing interactions or storing recycling mass. We keep walking, and make partnerships. We march.”