When small men cast long shadows
“When small men cast long shadows – the sun is setting.” – Lin Yutang
Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? – Thomas Jefferson
As the door opens, Prince Pahl slowly turns from the shield widow. “My own reflection distorts the view through the window,” he thinks, “but it is my royal self my people love, everything else is just bureaucracy.” The prince doesn’t consider why shield glass and a fortified compound are needed to protect him from loving subjects; or how they can’t protect him from military coup or noble inspired regicide.
“What is it Scar,” Prince Pahl asks as the tall, slightly-disfigured, professor type enters the room. Pahl smiles with pleasure in using the pejorative favored by the people as he addresses his advisor. Pahl would be less pleased if he knew the secretary also enjoys the disparaging nick name, despite his apparent indifference. The small facial wounds had been received when a coup had chased him from the kingdom. Scarlettia, had not had them removed, they were too valuable as a warning, except to his vain but useful puppet.
“There is a need for your imperial presence in the video room. We had to destroy a northern village when a woman was caught gathering herbs in your royal hunting preserve. We had village survivors plant trees where their village had stood, and then scattered the people to various cities as laborers. To quell rumors, a video script of a royal news conference has been written for your approval; to be broadcast as soon as possible.”
the princeling whined a reply. “just last week we celebrated the fact this sort of thing no longer happens. It is times like this I miss my father most, he was always so sure of himself. I can’t see why we don’t show a kinder face to our subjects.”
“What matters is your acting today, yours is the face of our country. Emotions, not facts, convince. The sheep can be counted on to bleat and repeat your words, refusing to consider any contradictions – they are your party – you own them. A controlled opposition will shout protests of provided words. Official forbearance of reaction reflecting well on your reputation for tolerance.
The remaining mass of people are your cows: branded by their educations, then penned to be milked. They will loyally bear whatever fate your wisdom instigates on their behalf.”
Pahl considers this, then nods his head. “I feel their subservience, yet am somehow aware that dangerous change lurks in unpierced shadows.
Scar scoffs “Your barnyard is pacified and watched by lethal mastiffs. Who would dare oppose you?”
“What of elk, and others of undomesticated mind?”
“Elk fight or flee because of your usurping their hollow & self-hallowed rights. They never consider your right to do as you wish with their lives. We have eliminated many of these elk, others have been allowed to escape through our fences and enter less efficient principalities. The elk remainder are hiding themselves from your well deserved wrath, all that is left are a few complaining goats.”
“I am uncomfortable that you seem to enjoy these goat purges a bit too much, especially since you have already eliminated the most dangerous animals.”
“Your best interests are my chief concern excellency. The people have been educated to follow authority, they expect any semblance of defiance to be crushed. They know those we crush are evil — because we crush them.”
After a moment to compose a proper reply, Prince Pahl stated grandly; “We of course must protect our loyal herds from interbreeding with feral goats.”
Scar nods as if at Pahl’s wisdom, and the counselor now further directs the conversation. “To continue our play with your excellent beasts analogy, there is a lion loose in the kingdom.”
“What’s this, a pretender after my throne and you have not apprehended him?”
“The arrest or necessary elimination will happen this evening; we have lion traps dug along his familiar trails. But he is not a pretender to the throne, it is worse than that. He is one of those generic hacker busybodies that are interfering with legitimate and recognized governments like your own. Their effects can appear anywhere, they consider themselves individually sovereign, acting on their own or as tiny cells they call teams.”
Scar continues in a satisfied tone, “When this lion is captured we will bleed the location of his compatriots from him, If we are unable to effect our capture plan we will simply add his ashes to the nearest city’s communal grave without ceremony. I am unconcerned about his individual effect; but we do not want a pack of aggrieved crackers descending on our citizen management and control systems in retribution. This will be done without publicity, tonight the lion simply disappears.”
Changing his stance Scar adds “I’ve made arrangements for our lead hacker to join us; with your permission I’ll go to the hall and command him enter.”
“I never fully understand these hackers Scar, they bend creativity to entertain themselves, not just to obtain goals.”
“True sire, using a dismissive term like meatspace for the reality we live in is confusing. They first play with words because they live in two realities; their writing of computer code has created another world with another language, a virtual world with attributes that extend toward fantasy. Sometimes they make the fantasy real. The second reason is they are a profession and have professional words to separate themselves and exclude all others – just like diplomats and bureaucrats. There are probably more than three reasons, but the third would be they are artists. They know many ways to present their art, their code, they vary language as a mode of expression.”
“That is all very well Scar, but I still find hackers tedious. I guess I could say the same for most diplomats, doctors of any discipline, and bureaucrats. Humanity is too large and diverse to constantly embrace, maybe these specialist tribes are necessary on some emotional level. Show the man in.”
The Prince has time for another quick appreciation of his reflection in the shield glass before his minister returns leading a colorfully bedraggled character into the room, his shirt has square creases in it, like it had just been removed new from a package. “Perhaps that is the only way he can know it is clean,” Pahl thinks.
With a bow to the prince, and an elbow into the side of his companion to tell him to bow deeper, Secretary Scarlettia introduced his charge. “Your highness, this is your loyal servant ‘hemlock’, head of your data security team.”
Pahl nods in his practiced regal fashion, but can not bring himself to approach his subject any closer. “So, ah, Hemlock; how are we progressing on our projects to protect the principality?”
“‘my playmates keyed a semi-obviosity in meatspace that a new bafflegab genericist is hiding time-bombs set to munge offline data, so scar is duct-taping him’. Without a pause Hemlock changes from Hackish to English. “However, I believe this generic’s entire program is now being released; we are working to ferret it, but his capture should make detection and removal easy.”
Taken back a bit by the informality, but appreciative of this subject’s willingness to do cyber-battle, Prince Pahl thanks and dismisses him with a wave of his hand.
Prince Pahl looks at the usually talkative First Secretary. “I’m bored with this technology business, just see to it and report results. I’m off to the taping room, I wonder why they call video, taping? You are dismissed.”
Scarlettia smiles at the retreating back of his prince. Scar’s thoughts would not comfort the arrogant young ruler. As the audience chamber’s doors close, Scar’s eyes morph in color to the flat black of death’s cloak. These are eyes that watch the speaking of last requests, while his ears hear nothing. “Stay ignorant of technology you fool, and I will control your principality at my whim.”