Thursday, March 18, 2010

Wages of Ignorance

The market was packed.  It was just past the mid-morning lull and business was picking up.  Sully looked over the fine array of wares that his brother-in-law had set up before going off on his early-morning coffee and kibbitzing at the usual five or six street cafes where the best deals were to be made.  Perhaps they'd be able to acquire some exotic cargo to haul back to Bazra.  Maybe the exchange-rates, tariffs and customary bribes would leave them with some small profit from it all as well.  That would be a welcome change from the last few trips.

Sully rolled up and stowed-away his prayer carpet and busied himself with adjusting things, fiddling with the display-items, re-stringing the gaudier bits of tinsel and beads, re-lighting the incense braziers and making sure that the samovar was working.  Musky amber, sweet copal, and the merest hint of jasmine and velith all mingled with the heady aroma of coffee so black it shined like anthracite coal you could drink.  It was a most engaging pavilion.  He was very pleased with his efforts.  He was a good brother-in-law.

People came, people went.  Crowds formed then broke up like clouds.  Buyers were few and far between, but Sully could spot them immediately.  He knew the role well, as he had been a buyer even longer than he had been engaged to sell the things that others bought or gained through whichever means -- it was customary among his people to leave such matters up to those directly involved.  It was considered foolish to attempt to drive a wagon from atop the cargo; one best left the decisions of driving to the driver, and so it was wisdom itself to surrender the choices as to how something was gained to those who were gaining it.  A buyer bought, a seller sold.  It was an ancient and honorable splitting of the labors and responsibilities.  Thus knowing what he knew, and being a very good brother-in-law, Sully made the discrete signs to each of the buyers that they would know better than to send along acquisition specialists or grabbers to make off with anything that caught their eye.  It would be a trader's transaction or there would be blood, as per the old ways.  It was the civilized way of doing things.

Every child who came into the pavilion received a choice of sweet-treat wrapped in wax paper from Sully.  It was a small price to pay to keep them from robbing the place blind, and he recalled the days long ago when he too had been amongst their numbers, yet another unwashed rascal running with the packs of urchins and orphans along the bitter, filthy streets of Talibarr. But that was another time, another place, before the gates re-opened and the Mogul-Archintate revived and restored the city to its former glory, blessed be the Mogul for his beneficence.

It was good to be a child in Talibarr once again, not the unmitigated horror it had been for nearly five hundred years.  The solar system had been isolated, cut off from the rest of civilization by the actions of a fanatical sect, the Azure Wrath -- cursed be their memory and a goad to good men to never again idly stand-by and allow evil to be done while they did nothing.  No one who had grown up during the Azure Wrath's Bitter-Interregnum could ever value ignorance as anything but what it had always been, will always be, and that is a virulent disease rooted in fear that breeds destruction in a million-million little ways until it achieves a toxic critical mass and everything topples into chaos, ruin and the depths of entropy itself.

Sully had lived through too many of the five-hundred-twenty-three years, nine months, three weeks, and four days of the Bitter-Interregnum.  He had counted them each night before he fell asleep in his cardboard box, usually under one of the partially-intact sections of the old waterfront theme-parks where the spiders, rats and other vermin were not so likely to be looking for easy prey.  The roachers and the centipedes had been the worst though.  He'd lost two fingers to a centipede longer than he was, but thankfully the horrid thing had drowned well enough and he had been able to barter the carcass to some crows for a better knife.  Crows liked the crunchiness of centipede chitin.  Some of them thought that eating such a thing would help them to grow teeth. It was a superstition that arose from the mistaken belief that they had the least-bit of human genetics in their heritage (they did not), and the garbled impression that chitin being rich in calcium, and teeth being primary composed of calcium, that in an act of sympathetic digestion they would gain fangs from dining on insects carapaces.  Sully laughed -- crows were far from stupid, they were just uneducated.  Or at least they were, before the gates re-opened (Blessed be the gates through which all good things flow unimpeded) and the Towers came back online.  Some crows had made quite a name for themselves, and some even found a way to get their fangs.

Dismissing the ludicrous, if dangerous, image of a toothsome bird-brigand from his mental easel, Sully rose from his cushions and made a slow, casual inspection-stroll about the front of his brother-in-law's pavilion.  He deftly replaced the few missing trinkets that he had thought better filched than argued over and contented himself with observing the market in general.  It was much quieter than usual.  He got an idea, an absolutely wonderful idea.  Bustling back into the pavilion in a rustling swirl of silks and polished chitin, his usual trade-attire derived entirely from the major exportable commodities of his homeland, Sully quickly gathered up his cushions and the reupholstered vidscroll that his brother-in-law had left behind and moved them to a delightful spot just off from the front of the pavilion where he could lounge in the pleasantly warm sunlight, keep watch over the trade-goods, observe the market-place and get caught up on the local news.

Grinning almost dementedly in his sense of self-satisfaction, Sully wriggled and adjusted himself until at last he was as comfortable as he could ever want to be and with a lazy, langurous flick of his wrist, slipped open the case and extracted the pliable sheet of translucent material that flickered into life even as he unrolled it into a stiff pane of not-glass that served as a three-dimensional monitor accessing the various local dataspheres, open-networks, and so on.  He hoped there would be some cartoons. He really enjoyed the often-times bizarre cartoons that different cultures produced.  The underground sorts of artistic expression fascinated him, even as it deeply offended his brother-in-law who lived under a more conservative interpretation of the Prophet's intent.  But he wasn't there, so Sully intended to indulge in his favorite pass-time, especially since the market was hardly busy enough to justify his constant vigilance.

The Great Clock rang out the noon-time chime which carried all the way from the Primary Tier of the old districts half-way up the cliff-face of the Great Rift's southernmost notch, down to the waterfront and the various markets that were in full flower amidst the wharves and the piers and often-times crowding down the ramps and onto the estuarial parks and the Low Esplanades.  The chiming of the Great Clock startled Sully who'd lost track of the time, having accidentally become ensnared in the local news accounts.  Yet another young girl from the lower precincts had been found floating in the canals.  It had been the sixth such incident in less than a month.  The picture was of a pretty brunette with large, sensitive eyes that would have been quite beautiful in life.  The tragedy of the girl's murder depressed Sully like a dark burden that spoiled his mood for cartoons.  He re-rolled the vidscroll into its case and went back into the pavilion to pray for the soul of another innocent lost to the wages of ignorance, a child of someone somewhere who had strayed into the company of someone whom Sully would greatly like to execute personally, should the opportunity ever present itself.  He would not idly stand by and allow such evil to take place, not if he were anywhere to observe such things.  But he was not.  He was a merchant, and a good brother-in-law, and so he prayed all the more for forgiveness from the spirit of the girl for whom he could do little more.

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