On Heroes: A FoibleSusan Skylark / Fantasy / Humor
On Heroes: A Foible
Copyright 2014 Susan Skylark
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This is a foible, not a fable, fables are by definition useful and educational, this story is merely enjoyable or so thinks the author.
Table of Contents:
Other Books by this Author
On Heroes: A Foible
Aido had been an under-clerk for the Department of Prophecy Amelioration for over a decade, and at last he was about to embark on his first undercover investigation. He had been in training for years: working out, perfecting his combat techniques, learning to procure and prepare ‘wild food,’ studying old maps and forgotten languages, familiarizing himself with the prophetic writings of every culture, real or imagined, learning the arts of healing, riding, and woodcraft, and only shaving every third day. Finally, his superiors had decided that he was ready to be promoted to the rank of Investigator for the Sub-department of Hero Isolation and Containment. He happily walked over to the Repository of Draught and Riding Beasts to procure his very own work vehicle; hopefully something in a blood bay with a little spirit, but that was asking for too much, after all, his was a bureaucratic position.
At least he was not assigned the riding ox or the donkey that would only go left, regardless of whether you asked him to stop, turn, or back up. He took the reins from the bored looking kid who worked the desk and looked over his new wheels skeptically; it had four legs at least, that was a start. The sorrel coat would blend in with every other horse on the planet, which was far from exciting, but perhaps being inconspicuous would be an advantage in the field. It would get him where he needed to go in an efficient manner and that was all the Department cared about. He sighed and led the beast out of the Repository and parked it in the loading area before going to retrieve the rest of his equipment.
If the horse wasn’t exciting, maybe his weapons allotment would be. Aido stood in line for what seemed hours as a fusty old lady pottered about behind the counter of the Dispensary of Potentially Lethal Implements, adjusting her glasses and scratching her head in confusion every three seconds. Finally his turn came and he handed over the paperwork requisitioning what he would need for his field investigation. She stared at him blankly, blinked a few times like a confused chicken, and then after a few minutes of silence, said, “you will have to come back after the Midday Ingestion Break, Investigator. You know it is against Regulations for me or anyone else to do any sort of Official Business between the hours of Twelve and Thirteen.”
He stared at her in astonishment, not believing it was already that late in the day and dreading the thought of more delay, but there was nothing to be done. If either of them were caught working over the Break, the results would be catastrophic. He said something inconsequential and made his way to the Room of Edible Procurement and then returned to the Dispensary to wait, finding that he had lost his place in line. He sat down with a sigh and tried not to weep in frustration. Finally, just before the Afternoon Refreshment Period, he was allowed to get his allotment of PLIs. Like the horse, there was nothing at all interesting about the assortment of weapons, but at least they were functional.
Quite nervous that he would not be able to leave today after all, he hurried to the Division of Wardrobe Affairs to outfit himself for his new role and thankfully arrived after the Refreshment Period. He stared glumly at the bundle of clothing, knowing it looked like it was supposed to but that the material and craftsmanship would not hold up if he encountered any weather that was not sunny and warm. The middle-aged clerk watched his reaction carefully, with a slight sneer on his face, saying as he saw Aido’s dismay, “don’t blame me, we have limited time to make the stuff and whoever bought the material got a great deal on it, though I wouldn’t use it for rags, but it ain’t my fault.”
Aido sighed again and left with his allocation of lousy clothes. Finally, with the sun low on the horizon, he returned to his nondescript horse to pack and be gone, but it took him another half hour to figure out which of the eight sorrel geldings in the loading area was his. When he finally identified the beast, he almost turned right around and demanded his old job back, for there was a parking ticket tucked into the creature’s bridle. He glanced at the sign, thirty minute parking indeed! He loaded the saddlebags and swung into the saddle. With a grim smile, he crumpled up the fine and tossed it over his shoulder and then urged his horse to a trot before anything else could delay him.
He stood outside the Edifice of Monetary Exchange and wanted to scream. He needed to make a withdrawal from the Department’s account to finance his journey but the facility was closed and would not open again for three days, as it was an Obscure Holiday Weekend (Foot Fungus Awareness Day). Aido could not wait that long or his superiors would demand to know why he was so inefficient in his duties. He had no choice but to hope there was a branch Edifice in one of the villages through which he would undoubtedly pass. He turned his mediocre beast and made his way out of the city.
Darkness had fallen, forcing him to pull over for the night. He glanced about hopefully, but there was no sign of either an Approved Nocturnal Repose Sight or a House of Temporary Accommodation for Wayfarers. He could get in trouble for camping in an unapproved fashion but it was a risk he would have to take, and with the mood he was in, he was quite ready to defy any and every regulation he could think of. He even built a fire without a permit from the Incendiary Activity Coordinator and used wood without asking leave of the Arboreal Comptroller. The cheery blaze revealed a sardonic smile on the face of the Investigator as he rethought the day and began to wonder at his previous eagerness for this assignment.
He had always been as much a stickler for the rules as any petty bureaucrat could be, but after all the headaches and frustration of the day, he began to wonder at his previous zeal for such stipulations. With these uneasy thoughts on his mind, he turned over and tried to sleep in as unregulated a fashion as possible. The birds awoke far earlier than any sensible regulatory body or department could fathom, a challenge the Avian Affairs Agency was still trying to bring under control, but the small, feathered fiends just would not submit to their authority, though fines and imprisonment had all been tried, alas to no avail. Aido was glad there was something in the Universe that had as yet defied regulation, and even more grateful that he would be up and on his way long before the lackeys of the Thoroughfare Safety and Compliance Administration were abroad. His more sensible side began to regret his rashness with the parking ticket, but another part of him laughed mercilessly at the part that fretted over such a trifling matter. He gathered up his gear, mounted his horse, and continued on his way.
It was just the sort of day to prolong the usefulness of his standard issue substandard clothing and his heart rejoiced in the beauty of the morning, quite insensible that he was violating at least nine subparagraphs of the Modern Aesthetic Code, which frowned upon such natural splendor and the enjoyment thereof, rather preferring the appreciation of the far more grotesque and grim (not to mention more financially lucrative) products of the modern writers, musicians, and painters. But what did this mere underling know of High Culture and the Finer Things of Life? He rode along amongst the bucolic charm all about him, content in his ignorance. The plain old horse jogged along indifferent to the countryside about him, and therefore quite obviously a lover of Fine Things and of a higher social order than his master. They came to a sizable market town that afternoon and Aido hoped to make a successful withdrawal from his work account to finance the remainder of his mission, else the paperwork to obtain a reimbursement of his expenditures would take the rest of his mortal days to accomplish.
He stopped before the newest, and ugliest, building in town, certain that it must be what he sought. It was, but like every other public institution, it was also closed in observance of an Official Obscure Holiday Weekend. Apparently his work related expenditures would have to be passed on to his children as an inheritance, as he would not live long enough to be reimbursed. He sighed and urged the beast out of town before he started screaming in frustration and risked being locked away as a lunatic or a disturber of the peace. Aido rode on for another hour before stopping alongside a happy creek, where he decided to take a break from his saddle and water his highly efficient mode of transportation. He mused upon his assignment and its futility as he leaned on the bridge railing and watched the gladsome water frolic in its stony channel beneath him. He wished his life could be as happy and careless as that unceasing flow. Another day of riding would bring him to his destination, perhaps his previous enthusiasm would then return once he was truly doing what he had always dreamt of doing one day, and for which he had spent his entire life preparing. With a heavy sigh he climbed back into his saddle, knowing chances were very good that only his loathing would grow in the days to come, for his heart had grown cold towards his first and only love. He rode on, wondering what he was riding towards, or perhaps more correctly, what he was trying to escape.
He passed through several small villages while the day lasted, each with its own Regulation Stopping Places, but he ignored them and rode on, enjoying the illicit thrill of thwarting the over-regulation under which he had so happily toiled his entire life. Thankfully it was a Holiday Weekend, else he might not have made it through the first village without being apprehended by the local constabulary for his various heinous crimes against humanity and the world in general, to say nothing about the discarded traffic citation. He rode on through more and more villages, each more forgettable than the last, laid out in the precise pattern required by the Zoning Commission of Outlying Settlements. He camped again in an unregulated fashion before rising on the Official Obscure Holiday and rode into Happytown in time for the Midday Ingestion Break. He glanced around uneagerly at yet another cookie cutter village and sighed, but he had work to do. He entered the Requisite Lodging and Nourishment Establishment for Transients, the only place open on an Official Obscure Holiday, and allowed the flighty teenaged hostess to seat him in the nearly empty common dining area, and acknowledged that he would gladly consume the Daily Balanced and Nutritious Repast. She returned with the unassuming concoction in a bowl and set a mug of some viscous purplish-green liquid before him that smelled of aged turnips and old socks, which immediately killed what little appetite he had.
As he was staring balefully at his inedible Repast, a man with a knowing look in his eyes seated himself beside the Investigator and smiled superciliously at him. Said the newcomer without preamble, “you work for the Feds, don’t you.” It was not a question.
Aido looked up in surprise but did not deny it, saying, “what gave me away?”
The man’s smile became condescending, “anyone dressed in cloth of that poor a make must either be destitute or a government employee.” He laughed in derision, “my brother is a fabric merchant and makes a handsome living by selling such pathetic material by the square acre to lackeys in the Department of Acquisition and Distribution of Necessary Consumables. He makes more per yard from that flimsy stuff than he does selling the finest material available to the Great Lords.”
Aido smiled ironically, “that does not surprise me in the least.”
Said the stranger, “so what are you doing here? Obviously you are here on Official Unofficial Business else you’d be in a Right and Proper Uniform.”
Said Aido warmly, “I am here to discover if any Heroes might be budding in Happytown. Certain of the Prophecies hint at just such an Occurrence in the very near future.”
The man laughed, “trying to thwart Prophecy again, are they? Will you people ever realize there are just some things government cannot control?”
Aido stared at his regulation soup in dismay, “that I highly doubt.”
Said the man eagerly, “so just what happens if you discover said Hero?”
Aido said dryly, “we offer him a great government job. If he declines that, then he gets to attend Mandatory Reeducation Sessions for the Socially Dysfunctional and will inevitably end up committing suicide, excuse me, I mean he will choose Elective Self Annihilation.”
“Lovely,” said his companion, “you people have a title for everything!”
Aido smiled wryly, “the Department of Nomenclature is the biggest division of the government.” He glanced around furtively and said, “I would rather get out of this line of work. The sooner the better.”
The stranger brightened, “with that I may be of assistance.” He continued with an amused smile, “are you aware that you are a fugitive?”
Aido frowned, “I was not aware that it was Official, but it would not surprise me, though it is an Obscure Holiday. The parking fine?”
The stranger laughed, “you didn’t?!”
Aido caught his amusement and nodded, “I carelessly tossed it aside.” He then whispered, “among other vicious crimes.”
The stranger smiled deeply, “then I will gladly aid your disappearance. We criminals must stick together. Come!” They stood silently, heartlessly leaving the inedible fodder on the table and a less than standard tip for the Hostess.
As they walked inconspicuously down the street, Aido noticed several posters bearing his face and emblazoned with directions for his immediate apprehension. They continued their steady, unhurried progress (so as not to draw attention) and turned down a smaller lane that apparently vanished into the neatly managed coppice behind the village. Eventually the Regulation Side Path crossed the threshold into the Unregulated and Semi-wild Wooded Area and became as unmanaged as the forest through which it wound. They continued on in silence for nearly an hour, and only when they felt themselves truly alone and unobserved did the stranger finally speak, “so what has prompted your flight from Order, my friend?”
Aido laughed, “I set out with every good intention of fulfilling my orders but it seemed at every turn there was a governmentally imposed hindrance to me accomplishing my task or even surviving for an hour without unneeded frustration and complication. That and the ride out here gave me plenty of time to consider life and the lack of meaning therein.”
The stranger smiled broadly, “welcome to the first day of a purposeful life my friend. I am called Gunyon and am a member of the Freemen for Commonsense.”
Aido grinned, “that sounds like something birthed in the Department of Nomenclature.”
Gunyon laughed, “it was, we social rebels had not yet got around to naming our pathetic little society and the guys over at Nomenclature could not abide having such an as yet unnamed group running at large, so they came up with a name for us.”
“Just what does this society of yours do?” asked Aido as they trekked deeper into the confines of the wood.
Gunyon shrugged, “we really haven’t accomplished much of anything yet. We started only a few months ago as a small group of annoyed citizens who occasionally met to grouse about too much Order over Tea. Of course our Tea Time was not considered the Official Hour for Consuming Brewed Beverages, so the authorities soon started to take notice. We each received a rather nasty letter, in triplicate of course, indicating that we had best mend our ways or there would be Dire Consequences.”
“What did you do?” asked Aido, both amused and aghast.
Gunyon smiled, “we went underground of course. On the outside we are just monotonous citizens but when no one is looking...” he paused for effect, “we each of us are rather disorderly and unique.”
“Your crimes far outweigh mine, sir,” said Aido, with a respectful bow.
Gunyon smiled in anticipation, “but you have hardly begun to rebel my friend. I think you could make quite a career of it.” For the first time since he left his old life behind, Aido felt the first stirrings of eagerness and what he was startled to realize must be hope.
Once Aido was completely confused as to direction and the hour, they stood outside an old fashioned but well tended cottage with only a few unofficial weeds daring to show their leaves in the otherwise regulation vegetable patch. Aido said in appreciation, “how do you get away with keeping up such a residence?”
Gunyon smiled, “the Inspectors for the Regulatory Authority of Domiciles and Outbuildings are loath to travel this far off the beaten path to make sure my house is up to code. I don’t tell them anything and they don’t ask; it is a mutually beneficial relationship.” They stabled the horse in an old lean-to that had once housed a cow, but Gunyon had not bothered to go through the rigmarole required to acquire a new one after the decease of his previous beast. They entered the cottage and Gunyon’s wife happily served them a brewed beverage outside the requisite hours. As they sipped their tea, they discussed many things and Aido felt himself enjoying life and real companionship for the first time in living memory.
“So what about this Hero of yours?” asked Gunyon, as he munched on his fifteenth cucumber sandwich.
Aido said with a mouthful of cookie, “what about him?”
Gunyon said, “what makes The Powers That Be think one is like to rise from such a place as Happytown?”
Aido swallowed his cookie and said, “the name alone would suffice, but there are certain vague writings from an extinct people group native to the very south of the world that suggests as much, but as I said, the Prophecy is vague and it could be any of ten or twenty different villages and this may not even be the Appointed Time. That is the problem with Prophecy, it is often rather vague and fulfills itself often without us knowing until long after the fact. But just to be on the safe side, they are taking all precautions.”
“How do you go about finding a Hero?” asked Gunyon with a smile.
Aido chewed thoughtfully for a moment and then replied, “we will of course monitor all known widows with only sons, step-families containing an ill-tempered woman, orphans raised by obscure or cruel relatives, and anyone who has ever found a child of unknown pedigree on their doorstep. Of course the current management strategy for all such High Risk Families has been implemented to prevent just such an occurrence. None of these Families at High Risk of Hero Production or Prophecy Fulfillment are left to go hungry, become poor, or otherwise grow discontent with their lot in life. If there is no discontent or need, or so the theory goes, there is unlikely to be a Hero produced or a Prophecy fulfilled.”
“An interesting theory,” said Gunyon as he chewed, “has it worked?”
Aido shrugged his shoulders, “before my promotion to Investigator I worked mostly in the Laboratory of Statistics and Numerical Data which compiles numbers on Everything, even on things that have no numerical data, but there was very little convincing evidence that any of their preventive protocols either helped or hindered Prophecy/Hero attainment. In reality, such occurrences are so rare that it would take a millennium to get enough data to even begin calculating whether their programs are effective or not. Of course, no one really cares if a bureaucracy is effective so long as it seems to be doing something.”
Gunyon chewed on this revelation and another sandwich, before saying, “can we improvise our own Hero?”
Aido sat back and said thoughtfully, “it certainly isn’t done that way, at least if you are going by the Book, but I am so tired of ‘The Book of All Regulations Pertaining to Decent and Orderly Civilian Life’ that I think we should, just to spite them all!”
Gunyon nodded, “very well, we will.”
They stayed up much of the night (quite against the Treaty on Reasonable and Necessary Nocturnal Activities) discussing their plans to implement a Hero and/or fulfill a Prophecy. As they made up their lists, discussed necessary attributes, and inventoried equipment, Aido said in surprise, “it seems my training to prevent Hero actualization has actually equipped me with all of the requisite skills.”
Gunyon smiled, “and out of Happytown a Hero shall rise. Prophecy fulfilled! Excellent! Now all we need is a ragtag band of followers and we shall be ready to shake the Pillars of Order.”
Aido said hopefully, “your company of so-called Freemen?”
Gunyon shook his head, “a few might be interested or willing to assist in our caper, but we need the seediest, most scandalous, and underrated band of cutthroats this world can supply.”
Aido nodded, “ah, you suggest a raid on the Facility for the Containment of Socially Awkward Individuals.” Gunyon smiled in anticipation of what was to come.
They went to bed and slept well into the day (violating the Compact on Acceptable Awakenings) and after a scrumptious breakfast that had nothing whatsoever to do with the Highly Recommended and Otherwise Required Guidelines for Food Preparation and Consumption, they went about plotting their raid. They made their way out of the forest in the twilight, knowing no true government official would bother being out of doors at that hour. They stayed overnight with another Freeman who lived on the far border of the forest and set out before first light the next morning. For three days they traveled as far and hard as they could each day without risking exposure by too much exertion. They arrived outside the Facility of CSAI in time for the Afternoon Refreshment Period and had to wait for admittance until the Guard for Security and Safety had finished his allotted Refreshment. The bored and disgruntled looking man in his fading years studied their paperwork, stared at them, returned to the paperwork, whistled tunelessly, and then resumed staring at them. Finally he said in irritation, “seems like everything is in order Investigator, you may proceed with your prisoner.”
Gunyon nodded grimly and touched Aido in the small of the back with his swordpoint, grumbling, “move along, scum.” They both contained an exuberant smile that their subterfuge was working so well, of course it helped that Aido was truly an Investigator with a real Department and that Gunyon was a renowned scribe who could copy, forge, or create any document or handwriting desired.
As Aido was by now a well-known criminal, it was quite reasonable to present him as the newest inmate of the Facility. They wound deeper into the complex, passing each checkpoint and guard station with ease until they were in the very heart of the detention area. The day was wearing out as they passed the last checkpoint and Gunyon asked after the keys, that he might lock up his captive for the night. The guard yawned and said, “it is one minute to close pal, whatever you do afterhours is no concern of mine but I won’t be held liable for overtime. Take the keys, I’m going home.” He handed over the gigantic key ring and left for the night, leaving the pair alone with the inmates.
It took several hours to free the captives, as there were countless keys to try in each lock, but finally the prisoners were loose and they began discussing strategy. It was an easy matter to capture the skeleton crew that guarded the facility at night and lock them up in the prisoners’ stead. It was many months before the incarcerated guards were able to convince the morning crew that they had been illegally detained, but finally the paperwork made it through all the proper channels and the guards were released with only a severe scolding. The morning crew thought it odd that the number and faces of the prisoners had changed overnight but as there was no official paper trail on the matter, no one wanted to get in trouble or take responsibility, so nothing was said about it until the proper paperwork was completed, by which time our Heroes were long since gone.
Most of the detainees went home, as there were far too many of them to go a’questing, but there were half a dozen that stayed to help. Aido studied their motley crew with appreciation; here were rebels indeed. One man had green hair that clashed with his favorite purple shirt, another really liked liver and onions, there was a lady who was overly fond of cats, Robert insisted on being called Bob, there was a repeat jaywalker (crosswalks hadn’t been invented yet), and a man who had accidentally cut the tags off of a mattress he did not own. Few were the criminals in the realm more vile than these, let The Powers That Be tremble, for the Shakers of Empire had emerged (yes, the Nomenclature people are at it again). They easily made their way out of the Containment Facility, after raiding the parking garage and locker room for their own personal benefit, and went out to, well, shake the Empire.
So how do eight people make an Empire tremble and bring an overbearing bureaucracy to its knees? Easy! Destroy the Paperwork, for if it does not exist on paper, it does not exist, at least in a bureaucracy. So off they went, to interfere with the lifeblood of this bungling, lumbering giant and who better to aid them than the Minions of Government themselves. Aido thought the tree obsessed people over at the Arboreal Comptroller would be just the folks to get on their side, for if it were well nigh impossible to get paper, one could not have paperwork, and no paperwork meant no bureaucracy. So our zany friends arrayed themselves in varicolored splendor and did not bath or shave for several weeks. Once they appeared to be quite friendly with the earth and all therein, they wandered over to the Main Office of the Arboreal Comptroller and made their plea. The Administrative Assistant was quite perplexed by these hippy-wannabes and did the only thing possible in a confusing or overwhelming situation: she delegated. So it was that they passed from one office to another, from one flunky’s hands to a lackey down the hall. Finally they arrived in the Office of the Arboreal Comptroller himself and happily extolled their plan of saving the nation’s precious forests from the horrid fate of wanton waste and negligence that was rampant throughout the realm. The man nodded, ordered his personal aides to present themselves, and soon interrogated them as to the abuse of the obviously vanishing woodlands.
The minions agreed to the last man (what else are minions for?) that there was certainly a problem and only Drastic and Instantaneous Action could preserve some small scrap of the once great forests from total annihilation. One went so far as to proclaim that his son’s third grade science teacher had complained the other day that they seemed to be cutting down too many trees lately, at least more than she remembered as a girl. This smote the hearts of all those listening sore and even lent scientific credence to the Theory of Arboreal Apocalypse. The Comptroller had heard enough; he would act immediately.
The Service for the Collection and Distribution of Information: Useful and Otherwise, was summoned to report on this horrifying discovery and soon the whole nation was in a near panic at looming paper shortages, rampant deforestation, and the resulting air pollution, acid rain, and erosion that would no doubt make the entire world uninhabitable for at least a thousand years, give or take an Officially Obscure Holiday. So it was that Drastic Measures were taken and the forests were saved and the masses appeased. Paper became scarce and terribly expensive until someone decided to import it from less prudent nations, thus restoring paper to the peasantry. Of course, during the paper shortage the entire government collapsed due to lack of paperwork and most of its officials were forced to seek sanctuary in the nation’s universities and on the professional speaking circuit, where they remain to this day.
While the economy suffered a grievous recession in the public sector, private industry and productivity flourished (even without paper) as never before, and for the first time in history, people without a government job could actually make a living. Eventually things settled down, paper was restored to the nation, and the government returned, but in a more modest and humble form, which was the only kind now acceptable to the temporarily freed plebs who, once drunk with the wine of freedom, would not again taste of the moonshine of bureaucracy. As for our heroes, each was honored with his or her own Official Obscure Holiday but after the Paper Revolution, only the Service for the Distribution of Written Communications officially observed said Holidays, but then, no government is perfect!