It was a troubled time.
The rebels were winning many battles, but the war was still on. They were gathering mindshare, and large and small kingdoms, warlords and kingdoms were joining their cause – which led to serious levels of distress in The Empire. They gave their followers a new hope.
But then the Empire struck back.
It sent out its fiercest warrior, laden with riches and promises. He went round the land, rousing troops to rise above what he implied to be “the peasants” and to align with the true cause – world domination by the Empire.
It is not easy to do such a thing, and so, to ease the way into the fortress, he donned the guise of a messiah. It opened doors to him and his legions, and he was welcomed by the most powerful in the land. Others saw this, and opened their doors to him as well.
But while his offerings of aid may have been genuine, he quickly abandoned the disguise to reveal his true purpose – to quench the fire of the freedom that was growing in the land.
He used time-proven ways of conquest- magnificient gifts, promises of salvation and of a better land. He offered these with a subtle threat – “hark my words, lords of this land, and do not succumb to this cancer growing within your territory, this cancer they call ‘freedom’. Take these gifts, and use them well – by using them to buy from me the tools to govern your land.”
And the lords bowed to The Empire’s warrior, and took his gifts, and his words, and swore allegiance.
They had all but forgotten the warning that one of their own wise men, named Enn-Vee-Thal, had uttered years ago – “do not use the tools from that foreign land, for we know not what they are made of, and they could be used to enslave us!”
But no one remembered those wise words. They agreed to use his tools, and his legions, to rule their own land, little realising that they did not need them at all – these tools and these riches were already theirs for the taking, right here in their very land.
But they were blinded by the glitter they saw through their windows, and the “not of this land” nature of these tools, and presumed them to be better than theirs, for such was the way they had been brought up to think.
And so the land started falling, for the second time in centuries, to the rule of a foreign empire. And the way was the same – come to trade, stay to conquer.
But deep in the heart of the very land that that the Empire’s warrior was trying to conquer, a not so small group of rebels was already at work, undoing the damage.
They offered true help – not fish (or just pictures of them), but the art of fishing. Not trinkets and toys, but ploughs, axes and tools to help build a strong foundation.
And they offered that which was most valuable of all – true patriotism and a love for their land, which they did not want to again see being conquered and ruled by foreigners, as it was until half a century before.
And so they worked hard, day in and day out, to put together their own offerings of knowledge, utility and hope.
But the lords of their land rejected their offerings, terming them inferior and incomplete, and even dangerous.
The plea for aid to their cause was rebuffed by the Czars of their land, the barons who were building their fiefdoms using the Empire’s tools, foresaking their own.
But the rebels struggled on, knocking on door after door, never letting denial discourage them.
And they saw moving pictures of their own lord shaking hands with the Empire’s warrior, beseeching him to settle down on their own acres of land, to bring “wealth” and “employment”, and promising to use the Empire’s tools to rule them.
The rebels continued in a stealthy way, hiding in shadows, but always there when needed.
When a trader was in trouble, and needed succor from the cross of license, they sprang to his aid.
When people found themselves invaded by pests inflicted by the very tools the Empire had mandated, the rebels jumped from the shadows, and fought side by side to beat back the plague.
When the minds of innocent children were in the danger of being corrupted by attempts to turn the Empire’s tools into means of “education”, they cleansed the young ones’ minds, and gave them knowledge, and therewith freedom, instead of slavery.
Their hope was that their rulers, the lords who aligned themselves with the empire, would see the error in their ways, and would rely on their own people for tools to help govern the land. And indeed, this is what these people had to offer, and willingly so.
The mighty lords of trade saw this, and said to themselves – “here is something that we can see as truly valuable, and it is free to all those who want it. This is something we must support, nourish and allow to grow, so that freedom will be not just theirs, but that of everyone who wishes to emulate their example.”
And indeed, it was the Empire’s greatest worry – that other lands would see the successes of the people they had termed “rebels”, and would follow their ways. This was already happening, in the far away lands of Pay-Rue, Jair-Money and Nammy-buya, where people had started rejecting the Empire’s advances, and had chosen the ways of freedom. Even in their own midst, the Empire saw its armies choosing to use these free tools, instead of those mandated by the Empire!
And so the lords of trade came forth, and opened their coffers to the people that were called rebels. They made available resources unimaginable, and in gesture after gigantic gesture swept away the depression and the pain caused by the Empire’s warrior.
The rebels, who were called that no more, took these magnificient gifts, and created a pool of knowledge and of learning, which they shared with thousands and thousands of people.
The people, who were once called rebels, and now once again were called “citizens” instead of peasants who had no right to choose their own future, found that their fight for freedom had just advanced one major step…..
PART 2 “THE TRADE LORDS”
Across the world, the Trade Lords were contemplating their future.
The Empire, that had once served them, was now trying to rule them. It was an unacceptable situation, and the Trade Lords needed to address the situation.
For one, they found their own direction and innovation being constrained by limitations and taxes that the Empire used to control both the markets, as well as their own financial wellbeing.
And the Trade Lords, who had in the past been accused themselves of such tactics, now found themselves facing their own creation on the battlefield.
Alignment with the rebels was not possible. Goals and methods often differed, but one thing was clear – the rebels had clearly found favour with the public, and their cause was an avalanche cascading down the mountain slopes, a tidal wave pounding the shores, a storm sweeping the plains and the forests.
More and more people, Small and Medium people of Enterprise, as well as huge trade houses spanning nations, found themselves trying the tools and the knowledge that the rebels were offering them for free and without strings attached.
And they found themselves liking them, and using them on a regular basis.
“Sure”, said they, “these tools are not as yet as refined and glossy as those of the Empire. But they have grown more and more so, and at the functional level, they offer almost the same services – and sometimes even better!”
For it was the truth. The Rebels’ Tools were indeed wondrous things to behold. People, used only to the offerings of the Empire, found that there was in fact nothing magical about them. The rebels readily shared their wisdom and knowledge with all those who wished to understand the inner workings of these tools – raising the confidence in the people wishing to use them.
And seeing the inner workings, the “magic” that the Empire had tried to hide from others, opened the eyes of many a disbeliever. Suddenly, they understood that what they had presumed to be way beyond their ken, was instead there for their understanding.
And not just that – the rebels were encouraging others to take the tools, and change them, improve them – to bend the metal into shapes best suited to peoples’ needs!
This was unheard of, and found great favour.
The Trade Lords did not miss this tidal wave hitting their shores. They too had sampled the rebels’ wares, and found them to their liking.
But how could they benefit from these wonderful gifts, and ensure that the rebels cause would continue to flourish?
One by one, and over many a year, they quietly, and sometimes loudly, began offering aid to the rebels. First it would be with support for a particular tool, then they advanced to more broad-based support, allowing the rebels to decide how to apply these gifts.
And then, just as everyone thought that a balance had been achieved, the Trade Lords did what no one had expected them to – they started providing tools themselves – in the spirit of the rebellion.
Across the world, the armour of the Empire began creaking and growing uncomfortable. Their Warrior, who once led them into battle, now served the purpose of attrition, going from land to land, trying to quell the uprisings.
He would return from these journeys, only to find his own stables in disorder, and holes and cracks were found in his own fortresses, and exploited by others.
“Enough!”, cried he, “it is time to secure my own fortress, lest it be overrun by the people we are trying to rule!”
And so he called for the great cleansing, with every man, woman and juvenile in his service throwing themselves at the task of securing their walls.
While the Empire was so engaged, the rebellion, now with greater and greater support from the Trade Lords, encouraged people to do that what the Empire was so desperately trying to avoid – they encouraged others to examine the “magic” of the tools they were giving people. They asked for, and received, help from others in flushing out and squashing the flaws that remained.
The Empire shook. Never before had they faced an enemy who struck so deeply at the very core of their existence – the “magic” of their tools. And the Empire realised that it could not possibly match the number of people whom the rebellion had to improve their tools, and to secure them.
“We must find a way to appear as open as the rebellion”, said the Warrior, “but without losing control over our magic”.
And so they did. They selected a few Trade Lords, and offered them an inner view of their “magic”. They called it “Shared Magic”, but it was anything but that.
For the Empire carefully ensured that no one other than them would benefit from the improvements that these privileged few Trade Lords made. The Empire would then embrace these changes, and extend them to their own, secretive, inner workings, then charge a heavy tax of everyone for the use of these improvements.
For a while, it appeared that the strategy was working. A few Trade Lords went with it for a while, but it soon became clear that the motivation from the shared magic was not just improvement, but profit for the Empire.
At the same time, the rebels, with their open “magic”, endeared themselves more and more to the people. Their strategy was simple – if nothing was hidden, then nothing could be hidden. If there was a flaw that could be exploited, then it would be found quickly, and fixed.
And in one land, a band of these rebels, who were now being called “citizens” again, were quietly putting together a coming together of like-minded people, of knowledge and of understanding.
This was the thing that the Empire’s Warrior had so feared. He knew that this coming together would unleash not just more knowledge, but acceptance by the Lords that ruled the land. It was this that he attempted to squash, by making it unattractive to support the coming together of the people and the rebels.
He understood that to destroy this coming together, he would need to do two things – bring the ruling Lords on his side (which was easily done with the giving of gifts and promises), and threaten the Trade Lords, who had the power within their coffers to make or break the coming together, with loss of business, with loss of support, with more taxes, and the cross of license.
The cross of license. The one thing that made mortals shiver in their boots. They knew that they had encouraged the making of this cross, but little had they imagined that they would find themselves impaled upon it some day.
But now it was there, being held over their heads like the sword of Damocles, and they realised that their coffers were now just temporary storage for wealth that must eventually go to the Empire. For as long as the Cross of License could be used as a weapon against them, they would not know peace, freedom or prosperity.
“This far and no further”, cried the Trade Lords. “We must free ourselves of this tyranny, to be allowed to reap the fruits of our own work.”
“And we must side with the people who have shown us a way out, with the people who have the open magic that is now helping us so much!”
And so, despite the threats of the Warrior, they offered aid to the coming together.
As the day drew closer, and it was evident that nothing could prevent the coming together, people started filling the streets, calling out to the rebels, asking them to show themselves.
“Come forth, do not hide any longer!”
One by one, the band of rebels that was responsible for the coming together emerged from the shadows of buildings, of trees and of clouds. They drew back their cowls, revealing themselves to be ordinary people one saw every day and never gave a second glance.
There was the King of Sly, and there was the Lady Jess, and yonder the The Pair of Sane, and from amongst the crowds stepped forth the Mahe of Endra, with his faithful friend Kart’k at his side. There rode in The Carter of Sid, on his faithful steed, the Green Bull. And from amongst the trees stepped the Wal of Jais, smiling his toothy grin as he stepped forward.
The people milled around, and in unison cried
“Reveal to us who the Trade Lords are who have so generously opened their coffers to us! Let us thank them, and let us take them into our midst”
And the little band of rebels smiled, as they turned to face the huge gate that was guarded by their two faithful, old, gray-haired gnomes.
And the gray-haired gnomes understood the signal – that it was time for the revelation.
And so they grasped the handles of the tremendous doors, and slowly, and with a loud creaking sound, threw them open, to reveal to the people who had dared to snub the Empire by supporting the cause of the rebels, and aiding them in putting to gether the coming together.
And even though the Empire’s Warrior was not present (having departed from the land just the day before), one could hear his bellow of pain as he realised that efforts to suppress the rebellion had failed, that the quest for freedom was stronger than the might of the Empire.
And the doors swung open….
PART 3 “FUTURE’S PAST”
“Why did you stop, daddy? Go on!”
Ran’el smiled as his son’s voice brought him back to the present day. How often had he heard this story, and yet it managed to grab him by the hand and immerse him every time.
With a sigh of exasperation, he touched the cyberbook’s controls, dimming its display.
“Son, it is late. You need to sleep, and so do I. Why don’t we continue this tomorrow?”
A rustle from the doorway of the cabin made him turn with a smile, knowing what he would find there – his wife Ereyn, arms crossed, looking back at him, with that amused smile that she reserved for those occasions when she knew that she had him right where she wanted him.
“Why don’t you go on, Ran’el? Your own father and grandfather would not have dared to stop at that point when you were a child.”
He moved to the cabin’s window and adjusted its opacity to allow him to have a clear view of the space they were traveling through.
He knew she was right – if his son was even a small measure of what Ran’el himself had been as a child, he would not accept anything but the whole story at this point. And why not? It would be days before they would reach Kartan-3, They had not yet crossed the Boran nebula that lay between them and their new home, where Jandar would have to relearn the concept of day and night after so many months in space.
Abruptly, he turned back to his family, a grin on his face.
“Alright. I will continue. But let’s not use the cyberbook’s version of events. Let me tell it the way it was told to me by my father.”
Jandar quickly snuggled back into his pillow, eyes wide in expectation.
Ran’el moved to a screen on the wall, and quickly used it to assure himself that their spaceship was on course and did not need his attention.
He grinned as the application’s logo quickly faded in and out – that fiery lizard logo had survived for centuries as a symbol of innovation in what had become the front-end for all information mankind had access to. How fitting that it should make its appearance at this point. It had its roots in the far away times when the first few Trade Lords had begun opening their own magic in defiance of the Empire – and the rebels had taken it and nurtured it, until no one could see any reason to use any other tool for information retrieval.
The status display confirmed the link to both Kartan-3′s network was functional, and that the various network relays that kept them in touch with other intra-galactic networks were also functioning properly. The advantage of having a permanent GNNID (Galactic Network Node ID). There used to be a time when the home planet used ran out of such addresses – a network such as this would have been inconceivable then….
Jandar was evidently growing impatient, and Ran’el quickly tapped the half-moon icon at the bottom of the screen that caused the screen to shimmer, then fade away.
Ereyn knew that she couldn’t possibly go back to her study now, and settled on a floater near the window, from where she could watch the magnificent hues of the Boran nebula as her husband picked up the tale.
“As the doors swung open, and the people saw who the Trade Lords were who had stood by their side, it became clear that the Empire’s Warrior had plenty of reason to be upset.
Some of these Trade Lords represented one of the most powerful of allies that the Empire had had in the past, and would have to continue to align with in times to come. Despite the might of the Empire, it did depend on its allies to provide it strength, and the Empire without these allies by its side was weak, almost powerless, because these Trade Lords provided the fields that were tilled with the tools the Empire provided.
The first Trade Lord who strode through the doorway was the one probably least expected – over the past year, he had become the home world’s single large distributor of the Empire’s tools. Having his support was, without any question, a massive coup for the rebels.”
PART 4 “COMMON CAUSE”
Ran’el stopped talking as a soft pinging sound drew his attention back to the information panel that reappeared on the wall.
He quickly moved to glance at the display, and smiled when he saw the reason for the interruption. Quickly waving a finger at the panel’s display size control, he expanded it to fill almost the entire wall, then stepped back to look at the screen.
A few seconds later, a window opened on the screen, quickly filling the entire screen, then clearing to reveal the smiling face of a man of about Ran’el’s age.
“Hiya, country bumpkins! Do you have electricity where you are?”
Ereyn laughed out loud as her brother pulled off his impersonation of a New Yorker from almost thousand years ago speaking to someone “not from here”.
In the 21st century, when humans still occupied only the homeplanet, it was fashionable for people from the northern island continent to think of the rest of the world (which apart from a few exceptions was effectively one landmass) as farmers and “third-world” citizens.
The peculiar speaking style Enkern adopted in his greeting had been out of fashion ever since “the rest of the world” essentially united in economic and social understanding, resulting in alienation of the island continent. It wasn’t long before islanders came to their senses and stopped acting like they owned the world (or being “global policemen”), but for a while it was common to see tantrums not unlike a tired child fighting the inevitable sleep.
“Hi there, brother dear, we are on the far side of the Boran nebula, three days away from you. What news from Kartan-3?”
Enkern had moved to Kartan-3 two years earlier, as part of the engineering team that set up the Galactic Network master node there. A network expert, he was also a bit of a network history buff, and often regaled people with his outrageous tales of how people hung onto the legacy IPv4 network protocol even when it was throttling them.
“Uncle Enkern! Daddy is telling us the story of the Trade Lords and the rebellion!”
Jandar’s uncle grinned.
“So where have you reached? Has he told you about the Trade Lords supporting the rebellion yet?”
Jandar nodded. “Yes, he just told us about the first Trade Lord”.
“Ah, then you haven’t yet heard it all. Ran’el, can I tell the part about the second Trade Lord?”
“No!” yelled Ran’el and Ereyn in unison, knowing Enkern’s penchant for “adding spice” to his stories – spice that was definitely not meant for children’s ears.
Enkern faked a sulking face, then grinned again.
“OK ok – I’ll let Ran’el tell it in his own boring way. I’ll leave you alone before I fall asleep hearing it, but before I do – Ran’el, the Kartan-3 GNNID system has been upgraded, so you can now switch to full capability level.”
Ran’el sighed with relief. Ever since they left the waystation on Jupiter’s moon Io, they had been connected to the Galactic network in reduced capability mode, limiting their bandwidth to a few gigabits per second. This meant that they had to rely on stored entertainment for the most part, reserving bandwidth for news and technical information. It would be good to be able to scan the network again for new music and other forms of entertainment.
“Thanks, Enkern. See you in a couple of days”
The screen blanked out, shrunk back to its original size, and faded from view.
“Daddy, daddy, go on. Tell me about the second Trade Lord!”
Ran’el settled in a floater, and continued.
“While the people milled around the first Trade Lord, thanking him for his support, the second Trade Lord silently walked through the gate. Silence fell, as people realised who he was.
While the Trade Lords often transacted between themselves, they could hardly be said to be friends. Rivalry was fierce, and justifiably so, for markets were expanding, but nevertheless limited. It was not uncommon for Trade Lords to form alliances with smaller Trade Lords, but it was *very* rare to have two such big Trade Lords join together in a common cause.
The second Trade Lord, a giant just like the first one, may not have been the Empire’s largest distributor, but he and the Empire had a point in history that they shared, until it was realised that such an alliance would not work. At one time, the Empire was actually developing the main tools for this Trade Lord, but then appropriated them for themselves, renaming them.
While this Trade Lord was a known supporter of the rebellion, it was inconceivable to have him here, at this coming together, supporting the same cause as his rival!
And yet, there he was. Undeniably, the rebel’s cause was strong enough to overcome the Imperial Warrior’s mighty threats. In the far away distance, once could hear the agitated Rocking of the Chair…..
PART 5 “BELL OF FREEDOM”
Much later, Ran’el studied the console he was facing. Having his Galactic Network node operating at full capability mode again was a welcome change.
He had spent the past few hours catching up on news, some entertainment (including a rerun of a live “rock” concert from the rebellion coming together, which he never tired of seeing) and of course tons of new technical material.
After Jandar fell asleep, much in line with Enkern’s prediction, Ran’el had been tempted to continue the story anyway, but Ereyn had covered their son with a therm-cover and laid a finger on her lips, signalling that the story session was at an end – for now.
Ran’el grinned ruefully. He really enjoyed both the story and the fact that his son, like countless generations before him, was completely captivated by it.
He looked at the cyberbook on the table beside him, and idly reached to pick it up. His finger accidentally brushed the activation control, and the unit’s audio came alive. Rather than switch it off, or go to full video mode, Ran’el closed his eyes, and let his mind form the images as the cyberbook’s modulated voice continued the story…..
“The Trade Lords had truly given a boost to the rebels. Not in century had there been such a strong surge of national and global pride, spurred on by successes across the globe.
The Empire, now facing serious roadblocks in its attempt to control rulers and minds, tried various ways to get back to its glory days, including engaging the rebellion in direct conversation, but the damage had been done. Acorss the world, people were beginning to deploy the rebellion’s tools, spurning the Empire’s offerings.
The Empire continued to survive, largely because it did not matter to it what the people thought, as long as it owned the minds of the rulers. The rulers could always make it law to use the Empire’s tools, and many actually did do so.
The rebellion, now in full strength, called on the rulers of their lands to see reason, but the Empire’s Warrior had great strength in charm and purse, and his influence was almost impossible to overcome. As long as he wielded his influence on rulers, and made them think in the Empire’s approved ways, there was little that the rebellion could do.
The group of rebels in the south of the land hung their heads. Failure in victory was a terrible thing to experience.
No one saw the gray-haired gnome and the Lady leave the gathering.
No one saw them return.
No one knew what they had done, or that anything had been done.
But early the next morn, a knock sounded on the dwelling that housed this group of rebels.
The other gnome, sitting in a corner eating the traditional dish of the rebellion, the P’zza, rose to open the door, and the first gnome and the Lady quietly entered, and nodded.
The other gnome turned to face the gathering and raised his staff, and beat it thrice on the floor, getting everyone’s attention.
And as he spoke, gasps of astonishment, then completely uninhibited cries of joy and the sounds of horns rang through the dwelling. Their cries rang through the land, as people near and far gathered to hear the news of the miracle that the gnome and the Lady had wrought.
And in the far distance, in the land of the red moon, where the Empire’s stronghold was, the Warrior quietly lay down his sword, his weapons, his purse, for they had failed him yet again. He left the stronghold to settle down and enjoy his rest with his family, with whom he would now be able to spend much more time…
Copyright © 2002 Atul Chitnis