Micro-fiction 097 – Kingdom of Lies (Post Apocalypse series)
From the far future comes a story within a story, of the dangers of believing without questioning, of lies that become truths… Kingdom of Lies. Some time in the far future there is a great Bazaar that gathers the people of all regions to its stalls. Spices and coffee, flowing silks and precious metals, carved boxes and beautiful musical instruments all adorn the walls and the canopy, surrounded by a collision of sounds and fragrances that dance across the ancient market square. In a corner, shaded from the sun sits a weary old man, Naji, resting his arms on the chair formed from the limbs of his weathered metal companion Rafiq. He found his way here many years ago, one of the last citizens of a now forgotten place, to ply his new trade as a storyteller. Before him sits a small audience, cross-legged on the dusty ground. Naji is well-loved for his tales and wisdom, especially by the young folk who listen with awe at his musings on magic and dragons, on metal monsters and terrible tales of destruction. “Today I bring a story of a City that Lies in the West, a magnificent, sprawling achievement, a vast island metropolis in the stormy lake systems of the Continent of Eurasia. It is a tale of human weakness, the dangers of hubris, and the seductions of power.” “Excuse me sir,” a young voice rises, “with respect, how can you know of such things?” “Ah my young friend, I learned a bitter lesson from the death of my family, my friends, and the home of my birth.” “The young man meant no offence.” A woman mumbled. “No indeed, and I have taken none, for I’ve learned we must all speak up, we must listen to what we are told is true, for that is the tragedy of the City that Lies in the West, for it was in fact, the City that Lies, a hollow Kingdom where none would seek to question the powerful.” “Can it be real?” Murmurs flickered across the audience like leaves in a breeze. “It was all too real, my friends. Both Rafiq and I are two of only five survivors of a City that once counted a million people within its realm.” Naji patted the hip of his metal companion, receiving a drowsy nod in response. “So why have we not heard of it?” “Because it fell victim to its own fabrications, it believed its own lies. Once upon a time, in spite of its stormy location it was a fabled City, beautiful and industrious, a hub of trade and influence, it exchanged great ambassadors from around the world, it helped other Cities in conflict, and of course made its share of mistakes. In time though, as more Cities grew, and people yearned to discover more distant lands, there fell upon the City a terrible affliction.” “You mean the lies sir?” “Well, everyone tells lies, little white lies to spare people’s feelings, lies of convenience so as not to cause offence, and lies of course to steal and cheat. There is a balance in life where the scales of good and bad intentions seem to measure out over time. In the case of that City, a thousand years passed before the balance shifted.” “So that was the affliction?” “Well, it was the point where lies and truth became the same. The entire City was infected as it were, and found it could not tell one from the other, and leading busy lives most people shrugged their shoulders and carried on.” “We don’t have time to think these days.” Everyone laughed. “Yes, yes, tragically, no time to think. Soon, the City became a Kingdom of Lies. It had elected a Council, and a leader, Almund who started only with the little fabrications, as all politicians do when bending of a truth for convenience. But all too often, the trappings of power bring a cunning for political survival, and over time fewer and fewer people noticed that Almund valued his supporters more than the truth. When a member of his council lied about gaining property illegally, or used their position to influence decisions for their own benefit, there was no reprimand, no consequence. When climate experts warned about flood defences, they were dismissed, their evidence misplaced but Almund was clever for himself and quietly dismantled all the instruments of commonwealth, and named himself King.” “But didn’t people know?” “Oh yes, the street media, the networks, they all clamoured with criticism but Almund was confident and popular. The people saw him as their champion so they closed their eyes to any faults. He became more confident, dismissed all advisors who did not tell him what he wanted to be true. All “so-called experts” were replaced by those whose primary qualification was their support for Almund the Clever. “His rallies were conventions for true believers, and whatever he said was repeated everywhere. When he said how many bridges he had built, when in fact he had pulled most of them down to use their raw materials, they believed him, and when he said the seasonal rains were getter shorter, when they were much worse, they, the true believers, and anyone who bothered to take notice, believed him. “Almund the Clever appointed his own judges, his head of police and military, health and education. Those who agreed with him gained the best in all things, those who did not were ignored so in time, night became day, lies became truth, facts became debatable, science and economics were withdrawn as respectable disciplines in universities, the construction robots once seen on every street fell into disuse as the parts to maintain them could no longer be bought. And the lack of food in the shops was not to do with the destruction of the bridges, but simply a terrible plot to remove Almund the Clever and his good works. “Why didn’t rest of the people leave?” “With Almund’s cronies in power at every level, just a hint of complaint would bring a midnight raid, prison and a long wait for a trial that would never come.” “So it had gone too far.” The audience was unsettled by Naji’s tale. “So far that when the seasonal rains began just fifty years ago, the great storms brought such floods as have never been seen. Almund the Clever assured everyone that no special action was necessary, that all was fine, that a great new era of prosperity awaited all who believed.” “But the rains still came, and the rivers rose, the lakes surrounding the Kingdom of Lies swelled, breaking into every street, pouring into the cellars, the prisons, engorging the drains, and soon the winds broke across the buildings, collapsing them into the waves. “Where was Almund?” “He was spotted with his entourage trying to leave in his own plane, but the storm was so strong the wings could not lift so, it is said, he headed towards the last bridge and tried to force his way across.” “So did he flee with the people?” “Well he tried, but the bridge collapsed under the weight of the thousands trying to leave. He died with them all.” “And the City?” “Drowned. Nothing left above the water.” The audience allowed a silence to gather. “So how did you escape?” a voice at the back emerged. “Ah, well, I was trained as a weather scientist. I lost my job at a university but I knew what was coming, so I left a month before.” “Did you try to rescue others?” “Oh, I did. Every day I would sit opposite the last bridge and send drones to my friends with messages about the weather. But very few read them. Eventually three did come, and brought my friend Rafiq here, but then the drones stopped returning. All was lost the bridge collapsed.” “So the City that Lies in the West is real? It lies under water?” “Oh, and it’s not just history, its a present danger, a threat. Truth is a difficult thing, often excruciating, rarely complete, but the gathering of evidence, the investigation of facts, the questioning of motives, these are true tests, proper tests, for all of us, because lies are so easy to accept when told by the confident and the powerful.” “So is that it?” the small voice from earlier rose above the babble of the audience. “Just one thing, a question for all of us, one we must ask ourselves from time to time: with so many things in the world beyond our control, do we too live in a Kingdom of Lies?” [End] Part of a new series of micro-fiction stories, released as These Fantastic Worlds SF & Fantasy Fiction Podcast on iTunes, Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Vurbl and Stitcher and more. Also on this blog, These Fantastic Worlds. Text, image, audio © 2021 Jake Jackson, thesefantasticworlds.com. Thanks to Frances Bodiam and Elise Wells, Logic ProX, Sound Studio, the Twisted Wave Recorder App, and Scrivener. More Tales, More Audio There are many other great stories in this series, including: The Green Man Time Now Artificial Intelligence Clone Complicit Cosmic Hall Lost Voice Daily Mask The Big Man Ophelia A.I. And a carousel of 10 audio stories from the podcast with information about submissions. Here's a related post, 5 Steps to the SF and Fantasy Podcasts.