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The Man With a City in His Head

by Maxwell Jameson

part 5

When they were quiet, Frederick began.

“Hello, all my fellow Citizens,” he said, making it clear he meant both the Citizens and the Takers. “I must say, it is pleasing to see so many of you here today. In the Outer Districts we are used to being out of the way of the rush to and from the Floating Center. When I was young, we felt like a different species.

“But times changed. Social strife lessened. We all learned how we would have to live in order to get along. And slowly Our City began to increase its borders. The Outer Districts became a part of Our City as much as the Floating Center. It was dream come true for many of us to be active Citizens without leaving our home.

“But believe me, I never thought that my home district would be the site of so momentous an event as the return of John the Leader!”

There was applause and a few cheers. Hope and excitement was Shared. For some reason I looked over at Adam. He was quiet, staring at the wall.

Before he continued, I watched Frederick glance sidelong before he continued.

“I see all sorts of Citizens here today, people from all walks of Our City’s life, even those who have come out against John’s return. I have to say, I’m happy to see everyone here, even if you don’t agree. Because it means the word is getting out. It means we’re ready to have a very important discussion. A discussion about Our City’s future. And it’s one we need to have, that I think we’ve all been wanting to have for quite some time.

“Now, I know that John the Leader’s past is a controversial one. Many say he did a great deal of damage to Our City. Very well. It is true: his era was a very difficult and trying one in Our City’s history. But there is a distortion there that I find troubling. Many people from the Floating Center like to present John as the catalyst of that unrest. But we here in the Outer Districts remember a very different story.

“We remember that the unrest came to the City from outside and that John was faced with it, pressing in. He was faced with an impassioned but inferior foe. Anyone from the Outer Districts knows that the Takers’ City posed no threat. John the Leader could have decimated it at any time he wished.

“But John tried something else. He didn’t think of what he could do, but of what the right thing to do was for everyone. He tried to learn the reasons behind the founding of the Takers’ City, the deep-set feelings of separation and alienation that ran through these Districts in those days.

“Before the Takers’ City was formed, these Districts had no central organization. We were not a part of the Old City, but not a city of our own either. What John realized was that all we wanted was the chance to realize our own destiny.

“But unfortunately there were other cynical opportunists who took advantage of this opportunity. They viewed the noble class of the Old City with envy, and they sought to seize that power for themselves. And inappropriately naming themselves as our representatives, they marched over to the Old City to spread disorder and violence, and John was left in an untenable position.

“But let the truth be understood: John the Leader did not bring about the invasion. John’s policies never stood for the destruction of Our City. He was scapegoated for the actions of a few extremists who hijacked the spirit of the time.

“But, fellow Citizens, we were lucky. John the Leader did not die during the Takers’ Invasion as we feared. He survived, and now he has returned to guide us as we attempt to finish the work he began.

“And this is work we must continue! And that is why, today, I declare the formation of Our City’s... Leadership Party!”

The Sharing burst. Applause began. Frederick waved it down.

“The party will immediately set about the advancement of John the Leader’s vision, to create a society of equality between the Outer Districts and the Floating Center and to ensure that Our City begins living in a holistic harmony with its neighbors and the earth on which it exists.

“Our manifesto, written by none other than Stephen the Historian, is soon to be released by Our City’s most prestigious publishing house and will detail our platform, one based upon equal opportunity for all, the freedom to find your own way through the world, regardless of your beliefs and centered upon the notion that Our City cannot be Our City unless we provide a chance for all of its Citizens!”

The Sharing was even more overpowering.

The applause and cheers erupted.

The moment it began, we all felt it. The lurching and wobbling. The dishes shifting position.

My establishment was lifting off the ground.

Some shocked whispers circulated, but mostly it just encouraged the cheering. I found it hard to focus because the Sharing was so overwhelming. But the sight of my dishes crashing the the floor focused me. James, Aaron and I struggled to keep everything in place.

Frederick kept speaking over the cheers. “And people will read this! And they will know in their hearts that it is right! And change... will... come!”

Jars, mugs, display glasses and plates crashed to the ground. Each time one of us replaced something, something else fell. My establishment wobbled clumsily but still rose higher and higher.

“Because,” Frederick said, “when we are united, everything is possible!”

As my establishment wobbled, I got glimpses through the picture window. I could see the street, now almost a hundred yards below. Takers and Citizens looked up after us. A few — mostly the strongest of the Takers — held onto the bottom, unwilling to be left behind. Other people held onto them, all straining to see and hear what was taking place, a human chain leading down to that crowd of people at the corner. I cringed, realizing they were all that held us to the ground.

And the Watchers circled, recording and cataloging. Analyzing the risk. Their reflective black eyes staring dispassionately.

“We... will... move forward!” Frederick called. “Forward, towards the future!

I tripped and fell. Several dishes fell on top of me. James came over to help me up.

Then came the other voice. “Enough!” came the call.

It tore into the Sharing. Pierced a deep, dark hole.

It was not Frederick. It was a voice that cut through everything because it was a voice used to being heard.

As I steadied myself and climbed over the counter, I saw the older man had emerged from his corner. He stood near the door, the hands of the Takers hanging off the side visible just next to his well-polished shoes. Everyone froze.

I heard a whisper in the silence, though. “Marcus the Statesman.”

The name passed through my skin and pierced my bones. The most senior member of Our City’s Council. A legend.

“What are you doing?” he demanded, spreading his arms widely, the unabashed disdain pouring through the Share, washing away everything before.

The only responses were stares.

“What are you doing here, listening to this? It is the middle of the day, don’t you all have jobs? Have you all so easily forgotten what you learned in our schools or maintaining our beloved institutions? Have you all forgotten Our City depends on you?”

A pause came that would not be broken because Marcus didn’t want it broken. He walked from the door and to the middle of the room, as Citizens and Takers alike moved out of his way. He radiated the confidence of a man who’d spent a lifetime on the Council floor, speaking what he knew was the truth.

He was one of the few living people prominently featured in the Complete History. He’d been instrumental in rebuilding Our City after the Takers’ Invasion. He too came from humble upbringing, the son of servants to the Old City’s nobility. But he’d joined the Council at a young age and had never left.

I sensed the falling in my stomach. I thought it was because my establishment was also beginning to descend back to the streets of the Outer Districts. I didn’t yet realize the true reason.

“Fellow Citizens,” Marcus said, making it clear the Takers were not among those he addressed, “I’ve had the honor of being a part of Our City’s government for decades, and in that time I’ve seen it grow in ways I could never imagine. I’ve seen it rise from the brink of dissolution to the heights of prosperity. We recovered more completely from the Takers’ Invasion than I ever thought we could have.

“But haunting the entire process has been the dark specter of the era before. Because there have always been and will always be those who cannot or will not keep up and who therefore convince themselves they shouldn’t have to. They invent elaborate fantasies that tell them what they wish to hear. And if their inadequacies run deep enough, they will begin trying to bring others along with them to provide the validation they cannot provide themselves. And then disaster strikes.”

I felt woozy as my establishment continued its steady descent.

“You may ask me how I know this. I know this because I saw it happen as a young Councilman. A malaise disguised as transcendence took hold of Our City and brought us to the brink. A belief that there was nothing real but the most low, dirty and unkempt. That the only path towards progress was one of destruction and dissolution, one of hopelessness and submission to the rabble. And it brought us to the brink.”

Images of the night I was buried entered my mind. Once again, I misjudged the reason.

“Only the efforts of those who had faith in their own abilities and in the inherent good of Our City’s institutions saved us, and they saved us by operating on their own initiative to ensure that there were security measures in place should Our City’s safety ever be threatened.

“I am proud to say that I was one of these people, though as a young Councilman I only followed the leadership of those older and wiser than I, who are sadly only still with us in the pages of the Complete History.

“We knew that changes had to happen in Our City. But we also knew instinctively that it could not be recklessly forced too soon. We believed that Our City had to look towards its past in order to truly understand how to move forward. It was was not glamorous or exciting, it would not provide us with as hallowed a spot in history as others. But we knew it would allow us to die with the knowledge that we’d helped Our City move forward.”

Marcus the Statesman paused. There was silence again. He looked over at Frederick, who still stood on the table. But he looked past Frederick, towards the old man.

“But there were those who thought differently. Who thought only of their own personal ambition. Who wanted to force Our City to move beyond its means or abilities into a sudden and abrupt change so as to ensure their position in history. Who mistook audacity for righteousness. Whose irresponsibility nearly destroyed us.

“And we must turn away from these demagogues. We must not allow ourselves to be seduced by their promises. We must realize that what lies at the their root is an inability to function as a Citizen based on the rules, and changing the rules would give them the power they so ruthlessly crave.”

He pointed a finger at the old man, who watched with a puzzled expression on his face.

“In short, fellow Citizens, we must run away from John the ‘Leader’, though how he ever came to be known by that name I don’t know. Because John never stood for anything except his own perceived greatness, his own presumed infallibility, and all that he ever did was lead us to the brink of destruction.”

We all felt the impact as my establishment hit the ground. As the Citizens and Takers on the street pressed themselves against the window. As dishes crashed and each chair, table, shelf, book, console, cup, glass and plate shifted position.

We all looked around. My establishment suddenly seemed very small. The walls were cracked and old and the furniture was battered and stained. Outside, vehicles roared past on their way to the Floating Center. Watchers criss-crossed the sky, though they no longer paid my establishment any mind. Our City’s news buzzed over holo-ports on every corner explaining real events happening elsewhere, fed to us the same as they were to every Citizen at every establishment in Our City, who had not allowed themselves to be distracted by childish fantasies.

Marcus the Statesman had Shared.

To be continued...

Copyright © 2011 by Maxwell Jameson

To Challenge 444...

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