"Ah, Jack. Good to see you again. You must be most pleased, mustn't you? All these books selling, so quickly, and stories. My other writers are doing well too. I am sorry that I did not enjoy the opportunity to publish your work myself for long before the larger houses started bidding for you, and for the others I've been helping. Still, it is best this operation remain a secret."
"Even if you're leaving it to see the galaxy as an Arbiter Caelestis?"
"Even so, it will be as you know passed into another's capable hands to run in my absence, not a seer perhaps, but still an impeccable judge of character and great friend of long standing. And of course I shall return, periodically. But we're not here to discuss my own future but yours. Whether the world lets you be a leader or not, it buys your writing, and that of course I should think is the most important thing."
"Of course. But I do worry my book's selling because of interest in the aliens, as opposed to my writing being any good."
"There is that aspect to it, to be sure. It became clear early on that the first day or two were mainly about the aliens. And that continues even now, but a lot of it seems to be good old-fashioned word of mouth. People like it, and well they should. So try to enjoy your life, as the point of life is to enjoy it."
"I no longer have any great difficulty in enjoying my life, Rupert. You can be sure of that."
"I told you to call me Jack."
"Jack, there's an alien ship entering the system. It's sending a transmission to all world councilors."
"Well then, put it on the screen."
Jack turned to look at the commscreen that took up an entire wall of his office. The bridge of a ship appeared on it, crewed by people who looked more human than the Arbiters he'd met.
"Greetings, Councilors of Earth," said one of them, "I am Captain Jeslaw of Danari, the nearest planet of the Celestial Confederation. I trust the Arbiters Caelestis have departed?"
"Yes," said Jack, "they left last week. Took a handful of people with them, to train to be Arbiters themselves. So, what's up, neighbor?"
"I'm bringing with me a few councilors from various worlds of the Confederation. They'll want to talk with you all. We should be at Earth within the day. It would be nice if we could schedule a meeting before we get there."
"Anytime before six on any weekday is good for me," said Jack. "Including today, but I don't suppose you'll be here in time to meet today before six."
"Tomorrow's good," said Roger, from his own office. "Anytime at all."
"Anytime," came the reply from various other councilors.
"Very well," said the captain. "Shall we say noon, then?"
The time was agreed upon, and Captain Jeslaw broke the connection at his end, as did most of the councilors. Roger stayed on long enough to ask Jack, "Why before six?"
"Evenings are for watching TV, of course."
"Jack, reports have been coming in from all over that 'World Snitch Day' was a resounding success. Which I must say, I find incredibly difficult to believe. You just tell everyone to go to the proper authorities and inform them of any crimes or injustices they've been aware of but afraid to tell anyone about, and millions of people do it. And from that, so much good has come already. It just shouldn't be that easy."
"The world's a different place, these days. People are suddenly willing to believe anything's possible."
"I guess. I almost think my crazy idea could work."
"I thought- it's really stupid."
"So's 'World Snitch Day.'"
"Yeah.... Well, I was thinking, what if everyone wore rose-colored glasses for a while? If everyone could see the world as it should be, maybe they'd like it. Maybe they'd think it could be like that, and maybe they'd act like the world was as it should be. And they'd see it can work, and by the time they take off their glasses, they'll be ready to keep acting like they did while the glasses were on."
"I like it, Dave. Write up a proper proposal, and one day soon we'll announce 'World Rose-Colored Glasses Day.'"
"Really. We've got a year to prove ourselves, we might as well try everything we can think of."
"Okay, if you say so. Now, it's almost time for that meeting with the alien councilors."
"I hope you're all enjoying this small sampling of our world's cuisine," said Jack.
"Yes, quite," said Councilor Arrik of T'ilb'ar, the spokesperson of the alien councilors present. "Thank you. But we really must get to business."
Roger said, "I've been wondering why Captain Jeslaw asked whether the Arbiters were gone."
"Because," said Arrik, "we're here to discuss dissent within the Confederation, something they are unaware exists. We'd like to keep it that way for the time being."
"And how do you know you can trust us not to tell them?" asked Roger.
Councilor Tr'stn of Arismith replied, "It is possible mathematically to predict who, or rather what sort of people will respond to a particular sort of message, and to compose it in such a way as to achieve virtually any desired result, even without greatly altering the content of the message. And so Jeslaw's message was designed to attract those who could be trusted with what we will tell you."
"That sounds like an interesting branch of mathematics. Sounds like a different subject entirely, actually. Like, I don't know, something I never really studied. Social psychology, or something. Anyway...."
"Anyway," said Roger, "about this dissent, you mention. Fairly widespread and organized is it?"
"Uhhhh... yes, more or less," said Arrik. "I mean, most people don't know about it, but it is organized, and it exists on every planet in the Confederation."
"But why would you want to oppose the Arbiters?" asked Jack. "Haven't they benefited all your worlds? And why would you not have openly opposed them from the time they first came to your worlds? I mean, if it is true when they say no one has ever opposed them, but rather accepted their help straight away...."
"It is true. People from some worlds wanted to bide their time, find out whether the intentions the Arbiters professed were their true ones, perhaps wanted not to enter into a fight they couldn't win. Many simply didn't have any doubts until the councils had been in effect for a good long time. And they have benefited us."
"So what's the problem?"
"Ah, the problem. Well, to put it at its most basic, there isn't one. And curiously enough, it doesn't get much more complicated than that. Not much."
"Good," said Roger. "Then we should be able to understand the more complicated bit without trouble. As soon as you tell us what it is."
"Yes," said Arrik. "Well. You'd think so. The thing is, the problem is within the Arbiters Caelestis themselves. None of the councilors nor peoples have any serious problem, really. All the Arbiters say is true. They have no ill intentions toward us. They have no desire to control us. Hell, they are us. They're not some alien race. They're all just people with psychic gifts. People from each of the worlds of the Confederation.
"And if we ignored their suggestions for councilors, that would be our business. If a world did so, it could still join the Confederation; and its leaders, as long as they were supported by the people, would essentially be held in the same esteem, politically, as the Arbiter-selected councilors of other worlds. This has never happened, as they told you. But it could. And the elder souls revealed by the Arbiters, even if they were not made leaders, would be helped to accomplish whatever they want from life."
"Right, right," said Roger. "I understand the problem perfectly now."
Councilor Sattab of Vyl spoke into her translator, which almost simultaneously issued the message: "You know, my world does not have native sarcasm. Other worlds we have heard it from. Always intrigued. Our attempts at duplication are many and awkward. We enjoy it."
Roger tried to think of a sarcastic response, but couldn't.
"Anyway," continued Arrik, "I believe I said the problem is internal to the Arbiters. There are dissenters among them, although they haven't told the others this. They have, however, told a few of us, and enlisted our support in spreading the word, organizing an opposition."
"To what end?" asked Jack. "And what is their problem, anyway?"
"Allow me to answer the latter question first. They don't have a problem."
Roger looked about to say something, but instead glanced at Sattab and remained quiet.
"That of course is, again, puting it at its most basic. Their reasons for dissent are, for the most part, too subtle and vague for them to adequately communicate to us. One of the more definable things is that they don't think elder souls should be leaders, on the whole. For most, that's not our heart's desire. I think it is safe to say that most of us consider ourselves artists of one sort or another. Some want to be leaders, or teachers, or any number of other things. But the dissidents believe that those who do not want to be leaders should be allowed to concentrate exclusively on whatever it is we really want to do. And what we do will affect the leaders, whoever they are, whether elder souls or younger. And, in a correlated issue, there is the belief that those elder souls who are meant to be leaders can and will, if just given a little help from the Arbiters in getting noticed, be elected freely by their people."
"I see," said Jack. "Well, I imagine that makes some degree of sense. Was there anything else?"
"Ah... well, the only other thing they've quite managed to get across is a vague sense that there is meant to be conflict in the Universe, even if only a subtle one. And if the Arbiters go completely unchallenged, there will be no conflict."
"Hmmm. Yes, I'm familiar with the problem. You know, I've always found it very hard to put conflict in my writing. Perhaps it's because conflict in other people's writing has always troubled me. I recognize that it has to be there, and I do enjoy it, but it also pains me. I identify with the characters, I feel their pain, and I wish they didn't have to go through it. But I realize that without it there really wouldn't be much of a story. So I try to put conflict in my own stories, but I find I've never been much good at it. I think my writing isn't so bad, even if my conflict, even between God and the Devil sometimes, is casual at best.
"Then too, there is real life, and I see so much needless suffering in that..."
"Of course you do," said Roger. "That's what it means to be an elder soul. All three stages feel like that; only in how they deal with it is there some slight difference. My House's stage, 1000-2000 years, freshly disillusioned about life, gets pissed and fights back fiercely against injustice, and failing, often goes insane. The second stage, 2000-3000 years, struggles passively for change, producing great teachers, philosophers, and religious leaders like our presently absent Buddhist friend. Your stage, 3000-4000 years, has elements of young souls (new to 1000 years, childlike, happy, free, artistic, wild, playful lovers of life) and the first two elder stages; is disheartened by the knowledge that the world will never be as it should be no matter what you do, produces great, usually unrecognized artists, and of course you all often kill yourselves." He allowed a quick, uncharacteristic, sheepishly jocular grin, and added, "For those of you who may have forgotten the first lesson the Arbiters taught us all in our month-long education program when they first arrived."
Most of the assembled councilors from Earth and elsewhere smiled too. Arrik said, "Anyway, Jack, I have read some of your writing, as part of my preparation for this meeting. I must say, I enjoy it. It is but rarely on most worlds that a writer can create effective fiction without strong conflict. In fact, I have some friends, both younger and elder souls, who don't think you quite manage it. And I cannot disagree with them. I also have friends who think you do a sufficient job, and enjoy your writing. I cannot disagree with them, either. As for my own personal opinion... I don't greatly care whether a story has a good conflict, as long as it is a good story. I'm more interested in concept than content, although both are important. Now, what is a good story is also subjective, but I like yours."
"This wasn't meant to be a literary discussion group," said Roger. "Can we get back to the subject at hand?" As an afterthought: "We can have the literary discussion later, I should think I'd enjoy that."
"Mmm," said Jack, "I've lots of things to say about my perceived failings as a writer. For example, I fear I use the word 'said' too often, but it would be a mistake to even vaguely misuse other words merely for the sake of trying to avoid redundancy. But-" he quickly interjected, puting up a hand to stave off Roger's imminent interruption, "as you say, that can wait for another time."
"Now then," said Arrik, "to address your former question. What is the goal of the opposition? What are we actually going to do? We do not intend to physically fight the main body of the Arbiters Caelestis. We don't want a war. It is hard to say what exactly we are going to do. To put it at its most basic, we don't intend to do anything."
"Then why bother having this whole secret organization?" asked Roger.
"And why don't the dissident Arbiters just tell the others how they feel?" asked Jack.
"And why do you serve the dissidents?" asked Roger.
"And are we using 'dissident' and 'dissent' too much?" asked Jack. "Or is it like I said about 'said'?"
"Ah," said Arrik, ignoring Jack's last question. "Now we begin to get into the more vague reasons I had mentioned. The things our Arbiters can't manage to convey properly in words. But allow me to point out that we do not serve them. We... hmmm, perhaps the best word is 'represent' them, although even that is slightly imperfect. Why do we do it? Because we who are aware of the dissent, we each of us agree with them for one reason or another. I can't say I quite agree with the idea that the Universe needs conflict, though that seems to be the most important of their reasons, to their way of thinking. Well, to most of them, although I've been given to understand that there may be those among them who entirely disagree with that concept. But like me, and other councilors and younger souls, they see some of the other reasons as important enough to ally themselves."
"Perhaps," suggested Roger, "those who feel a need for conflict should just oppose the dissenters who don't, and leave the regular Arbiters out of it."
"Ah, but they like this arrangement better, you see. Sort of conflict within conflict. Two groups who disagree with one another joining together to stand against another, larger group who they both disagree with even more strongly. A good story concept, don't you think?"
"It's been done," said Roger. "But it's more classic than cliché, I suppose. It works."
"As I was saying at some relatively recent point," said Arrik, "or perhaps was going to say, I've lost track... I represent them because I agree with the idea of letting us elder souls just do what we always felt we were meant to do. Myself, I like to paint, and I find I don't have nearly enough time for it, what with being a world councilor, and all."
"Doesn't being part of a secret dissident movement rather waste even more of your time?" asked Roger.
"Yes. It's called investment, my boy. Give up time now so perhaps I'll have more time later, if we are successful."
"But you said you weren't going to actually do anything," Jack pointed out.
"I also said, as I so often have this afternoon, that that is puting it at its most basic. We will do something, eventually, but it will have to be as vague and subtle as the nature of the dissent itself. Or perhaps, and this is just a guess of mine, perhaps all we're really doing is waiting for our Arbiters to figure out what it is they want to do about their problem. And in the meantime, set things up so they'll be ready to do it if they ever do think of something."
"My head hurts, vaguely," said Jack.
"What if the relative pronunciations of the words 'vague' and 'segue' were reversed?" Roger threw in with a wicked grin, apparently just to worsen Jack's headache, and produce the slight frown and burrowing of the brow that made his own grin widen.
"Vaagwee and seeg," said Jack. "I thought you wanted to stay on track."
"I've suddenly realized there is no track. For all I know, the past few months have all just been a dream."
"Mine," said Jack. "I'm still standing on that building, preparing to jump and trying to talk myself out of it. If so, I think I'll not jump. I can always do it another day. The opposite is not true."
"Perhaps we could have that literary discussion now. Or a debate on the morality of suicide."
"I've already written my views on that issue, and put them on my homepage."
"Oh. I'll have to have a look at that, if this turns out not to be a dream- yours, mine, or anyone else's."
"I have a friend who's training to be an Arbiter."
"Well," said Arrik, "you can't talk with him about this anytime soon. If our Arbiters see him as someone who might agree with them, they will approach him in their own time, after his training is complete. You could talk to him about this if ever he broaches the subject himself. But I can tell that your minds are starting to turn to jelly, so why don't you all just go home, change into your slippers, get a cool can or bottle or glass of something to drink, sit back in your favorite chair and watch reruns of Cartoon Planet. We'll be on Earth a week or so, so you'll have time to think things over when your heads clear up. But don't think too deeply about it, because it will never really stop jellifying your brains when you do."
"Right," said Roger. "One more question. Aren't we supposed to contact the Confederation when we're ready? You contacted us."
"See how jellified you are? We're not representing the Confederation right now. We're not officially here. You'll still have to contact the proper people. When you're ready."
"Oh yeah. I'm ready for Brak."
"Wait," said Jack. "Um... what was I gonna say? I know there was something. Hmmm..." Silence. Thinking. Minutes pass. "Oh yeah! Um, I was just thinking, you know, a few minutes ago, I was thinking that, What if this whole experience were a story I was writing? How would I end it? There's so much more I could write about my hopes and fears as a person and a writer, which somehow seems at least as important as the main concept of aliens and elder souls- in fact, that actually sounds almost like a plot device to allow me to write about myself anyway- but that probably better belongs to our literary discussion. And my brain, as Arrik says, is too jellified right now for that. I could write about our probable decisions of some of us joining the dissidents and the rest of us at least agreeing not to reveal any of this to anyone. But that's not exactly climactic. As things stand now, we have an anti-climax without a preceding climax."
"Climaxes are overrated," said Arrik.
"Well, literary ones," said Roger.
"I'll take your implicated word for it," Jack said to Roger, somewhat glumly.
To which Roger laughed and replied, "Do you mean to say you're...? Oh, man, buddy, you gotta get-"
"Might I suggest," interrupted Arrik, "ending it there?"
stuff i wrote