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                                           Ben Blumenberg
                                           Reality Software
                                           P.O. Box 105
                                           Waldoboro, Me 04572
                                           June 26, 1992
                                          August 23, 4036

My dearest,

   Finally, my semi-annual allotment of message units has

arrived. Will I be glad when this expedition is over! It has been the most frustating, unproductive and unpublishable field experience of my career. The Tlaidas are the most self- contained, taciturn, and uncommunicative people I have ever encountered. We have been on this god-forsaken arid rock for over two years and have not seen any evidence of ritual or religous thought. A culture devoid of the metaphysical impulse is beyond my comprehension and, indeed, would run counter to all known theories of societal development.

   Well, all may not be lost.  Recently, I did learn that the

Tlaidas possess a philosophy of sorts, whose principles are embodied in a series of Fables. Needless to say, they would not elaborate and would certainly not condescend to tell a thoroughly frustated Terran anthropologist a tale or two. Then, just this past week, an event occurred which might be the beginning of a breakthrough. Last night, Antaanak, my one and only friend among the Tlaidas knocked on the door shortly after the second moon had set and asked if he could talk to me. He looked sad and upset as he thrust a worn, rolled manuscript into my hands. He said it was a Fable and he wished it transported off planet for perusal, enjoyment and study. Antaanak believes that if the Tlaidas have anything to give to other peoples, it is their Fables. They possess no sculptural or pictorial art, no mineral wealth and only the most rudimentary of technologies. The violent dust storms, which are almost a nightly occurrence here during the summer, forced Antaanak to wait until dawn before leaving.

   After thrusting the parchment into my hands and making me

swear eternal oaths not to reveal the means by which I came to own it, he lapsed into gloomy silence. Apparently, it is a crime punishable by torture and mutilation to give or tell a Fable to an offworlder. Antaanak's is convinced that the Tlaidas must end their self imposed, eon-old isolation and begin to communicate the only thing they have of any value and so he has exposed himself to enormous risk. He has committed the most heinous crime of his culture. Antaanak is mortally afraid that if the Tlaidas persist in their ways, they will slowly, irrevokably rot from narcissistic, fear-ridden egocentricity until they are totally consumed by fear, hatred and madness. I agree completely.

   To think that such noble hands may have provided me with the

opportunity to achieve tenure at the University! Guard this old manscript with your life, my dear, your very life!

   I miss you more than words can convey. Unitl we meet, may

the tears of Earth stain the stars forever.

                            With boundless love,


                           THE FABLE
   Once upon a time in a galaxy far, far away from here, there

lived a king. This king was good man and he ruled his realm on a sun drenched, but fertile planet, with fairness, justice and love. His peasants were truly free men and women. They laughed and sang and their crops were lush and bountiful. The women of the land were famed for their beauty, intelligence, smiles and happy, healthy children. Peace was upon the land and had been so long as the king had ruled, which was as long as anyone could remember. No enemies from within, without or above trouble this fair land. The king maintained no army and few soldiers. His several knights seemed jovial and good natured fellows who spent most of their time pulling carts and wagons from ditches, helping old men and women draw water from the well, and teaching young boys and girls how to use the bow and hunt.

   But it was apparent to all that the king was not happy.  In

contrast to his subjects, he was never observed to smile or laugh. Almost daily accompanied by some of his knights, he would visit a village or field and inquire of those he met about their hopes, failures, successes and expectations. His polite manner was never aloof or condescending, but was noticeably reserved and somewhat cold. The impression that he left upon his subjects was not that he did not care for them, but that he carried a sadness within; a pain and a nightmare which could not be erased. Many inhabitants of the land perceived this quality and privately grieved for him. Why could he who ruled this kingdom of peace and love not be at peace and in love?

   After dinner in the villages or on hot lazy summer

afternoons or by the fire in winter, conversation often turned to the mystery of the king's torment. Had he been a great villain or assassin in some other time or place? Had he lost a loved son or daughter? But where was his lady? In all the numberless years of the king's rule, no one could ever remember him having a woman by his side or showing the slightest interest in a woman for the particular qualities of her sex. Had his heart been destroyed by the loss of his one true love? A few of the crueler minds in the kingdom suggested that perhaps he kept a woman chained in his castle on whom all sorts of unspeakable acts were committed. The same few fools were also heard to say that perhaps the king's lust exploded upon his men at arms or the beasts in his stable. Such voices were rare in the land, however, for virtually all loved, if slightly feared, their good, wise and self tormented king.

   Then one spring, the rains did not fall.  Such a thing had

not occurred within the memory af any living man or woman. The ground turned to powder and dust and the seed died for lack of water. Some attempts were made to irrigate the fields from rivers and wells but the task was hopeless. The rains had always fallen and the people had never prepared themselves for, or even dared imagine, their absence. By early summer the heat was unbearable, the rivers had dwindled to mere tiny creaks and many wells had run dry. Babes and young children began to die as their mother's breasts ran dry. Strang and unknown diseases began to strike the weak, the old and the young. Cries of unquenchable grief assailed the stillness of the night as loved ones died in a land that seemed to have lost its soul.

   During this time of death, the king was strangely absent.

After the first few days of unbearable heat and dryness had made their appearance, he retreated to his castle and did not re- emerge to continue his daily contacts with the people. The drawbridge over the castle moat was drawn up and what were now stern and uncaring knights turned away all who inquired with clipped, abrupt relies. The kingdom's inhabitants resented the king's absence, his seeming lack of caring during this time of crisis for those whom he had so diligently looked after during times of plenty. Some began to wonder if the king had cursed his subjects for the drought or some unknown and unspeakable offense that he imagined they had committed. But search in their hearts as they may, they could discover no grievous wrong acted out upon the king or themselves. Besides, was not the king a mortal man? Surely, the calamity upon them now could only come from the hands of the gods.

   As summer waned, the heat and aridity became, incredibly,

even more extreme. More of the young and old died and some of the young, strong and beautiful went mad. Summer did not merge into fall and all hope of respite from the death heat dwindled.

   Then, one furnace ridden day, the dragon appeared.
   Many who were too tired or weak to raise their heads noticed

only a momemtary darkening of the mid-day sky. Those who did look up were both horrified and fascinated, awestruck and immobilized with fear. Now they were terrorized by a beast of unimaginable proportions that filled half the sky and blotted out the accursed orb of catastrophe itself. The dragon was as long as a wheat field and covered with blood red scales from the end of its snout to the tip of its long pointed tail. The beast's hideous tongue was black, four enormous limbs ended in gleaming white talons, two pairs of cobalt blue wings of a strangely delicate structure rose form its back, and its absurd light grey eyes were hypnotic and terrifying.

   The dragon circled the sun three times and came to rest in

an enormous shrivelled field that lay directly in front of the king's castle. The dragon settled itself slowly, adjusting its wings and limbs several times as it found its most comfortable resting position, belched several long tongues of green flame and not a little smoke, and then quietly closed its eyes and went to sleep.

   The populace huddled in their villages consumed by an

apotheosis of fear. Few dared venture out. Many died for want of water and food rather than expose themselves to the dragon. The great creature, however, seemed oblivious to all and neither ate nor drank, neither moved nor stirred. and was never seen to open its terrifying, light, grey eyes. Only a faint plume of white smoke that occasionally escaped from its tiny slitted nostrils, signalled to all that this awesome, uncontrollable force was not dead, but slumbered and waited for something - the gods only knew what.

   The drought went on into the late fall with no slackening of

heat and dust, no slackening of death and madness. Through it all, the dragon still slept almost all the time never moving, but now occasionally opened one light, grey eye to briefly survey the castle. An occasional villager would venture to the edge of the field where the dragon slept, but most gave the great beast a wide berth.

   The one suffocating, hot, still, breathless day that was

identical to the hundreds that had preceded it, the great door to the castle swung open. The drawbridge was lowered over the dried out moat and the king rode forth on his favorite black stallion. He was alone and dressed in a black tunic crossed by a red sash and at his waist hung a glistening, silver, battle sword. The king slowly cantered across the field and stopped his horse a few yards from the great creature's nose. He dismounted and knelt on the ground. Drawing the great sword from its scabbard, he placed it upon the earth. The king then bowed his head until it touched the scorched grass and said in a loud, clear voice, "I am here Cassandra. Do with me what you will."

   The dragons right forelimb flashed out and raked the king's

body from head to toe. An eruption of crimson flowed over the earth. The king died instantly without a sound. The dragon stirred, opened its eyes and stretched its legs and tail. It belched one long tongue of crimson flame and black smoke and launched itself into the air. One swift pass over the sun and it was gone.

   Hours passed and the blazing sun coagulated the king's life

and he ceased to bleed. One by one, the villagers and knights came onto the field to stare. They could scarcely believe that their good, wise, compassionate and mysterious king was dead. At sundown, they buried him in the field in an unmarked grave.

   The next day, it rained.

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