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Lesser Evil

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A young man took a child to see an old king. 

 

They met on a balcony, overlooking a city full of bustle and trees underneath a clear blue sky.

 

The old king asked the child, who came from another time and felt he was in a dream, if the kingdom was good. 

 

The child asked if the people were free. 

 

The king told him that they were free to pursue their happiness. 

 

The child asked if the people were happy. 

 

The king told him that they wanted for nothing they needed. 

 

The child asked if the people were safe.

 

The king told him that that things were as peaceful as they’d ever been.

 

Their citizens were provided for. 

 

Rule breakers were reformed. 

 

All the people in the world knew themselves under one banner of humanity. 

 

To the child, this meant the kingdom must be good. 

 

The young man was not so sure. He didn’t think the child understood the cost.

 

Many people had suffered and died to make this kingdom possible.

 

Its peace was built on bloodshed.

 

Was the kingdom still good?

 

The child paused...and thought…

 

The child asked the man if the laws were fair and just.

 

The man conceded they were, but what preceded had not been.

 

The child asked the king if the kingdom would last.

 

The king promised it would last till the planet was outgrown, and hopefully beyond.

 

The child thought some more.

 

The child told him that where he came from would not last.

 

The laws were not just or fair.

 

Their nations were not good.

 

There was always bloodshed, never peace.

 

Even at a cost.

 

Something for a price was better than endless loss for nothing.

 

The child told the king that he wished to have his world some day.

 

The king’s smile was sad when he told the child he would.

 

The child woke in his own bed, and went down for breakfast.

 

His mother was watching the news. 

 

It seemed that the world’s troubles grew with him.

 

He tried not to listen. 

 

He longed for his dream.

 

He was still a child when it all fell to a tyrant.

 

He could no longer be a child when his parents died.

 

Children don’t know the intimate details of bones breaking beneath the skin.

 

Children don’t put that knowledge to good use.

 

The landscape of the world changed into smothering sequence.

 

Every citizen an agent of the state.

 

Every agent given their marching orders.

 

Every dissident cleared from the path. 

 

There was too little space under the thumb of the tyrant.

 

Too much put under his boot to make room.

 

He was neither man nor child when he met his partner.

 

They started out stealing food, then medicine.

 

They looked after the old and the sick and weary.

 

They looked after children who still knew what that meant.

 

He was a man before he knew what that meant.

 

His partner was executed for being an obstruction to order.

 

He always thought they’d taken the path of least resistance. 

 

It was no longer the one he was willing to walk.

 

Children don’t know the intricate details of gears breaking within a machine. 

 

Men may put it to good use. 

 

Airplanes and cars and government officials crash and burn for want of a few cogs.

 

And a few less explosive charges.

 

His second thought a lot about doing the right thing.

 

He thought the right thing was on the opposing side of evil.

 

His second would ask how that applied when two evils faced each other.

 

He would say it was a question of priority and severity.

 

The path of most resistance was lined with anger, violence, and increasing public attention.

 

His second would ask where this path led.

 

He would say he wasn’t sure.

 

His second didn’t like that answer. 

 

He didn’t have any others to give...until he did.

 

It led to someone else on the throne.

 

It led to the tyrant’s chambers in the dead of night.

 

It led to the quiet gasp made when a blade slips between the fourth and fifth ribs.

 

His second wasn’t there to hear it.

 

No one was there to hear it.

 

Only him.

 

He sat on a bench next to a dying old man and watched a beautiful parade.

 

The blood was still on his hands. The knife still in the tyrant’s stomach. 

 

He didn’t understand.

 

The tyrant told him to watch.

 

The procession called out his name like a hymn, humming throughout the entire city. 

 

The entire world. 

 

They flew the banner of humanity. 

 

He asked the dying king where they were.

 

The dying king told him they were at the end of the Earth. 

 

The world didn’t look like it was ending to him.

 

The dying king told him to think of it as a graduation, then. 

 

He said it with a bloody smile, just as sad as he remembered.

 

He asked the dying king what all this meant.

 

The dying king told him that he had wanted his world, so he’d given it to him.

 

Partially. 

 

He pulled out a strange cylinder, an inch thick, made up of dials. Dates.

 

It was cold in his hand. 

 

The dying king told him that he would have to handle the clean up.

 

He was angry. He was confused. He’d thought the old king to be a good man.

 

The dying king told him that he liked to think he had been...once. 

 

Certainly when he’d met the child, he could only hope he was.

 

But his world could not be made by a good man alone. 

 

And even lesser evils were not the work of children. 

 

He told the dying king that he could just leave, go back to his world and stay, never do the evils he’d done. 

 

The dying king told him that was his choice. 

 

His had already been made. 

 

In the distance, a resounding boom . White smoke. 

 

A craft, impossibly large and shining, rose into the clear blue sky to a chorus of deafening cheers. 

 

The dying king used his last breath on a short sigh. 

 

No one was there to hear it.

 

Only him. 

 

The cylinder was impossibly heavy. 

 

The young man thought back to the night he’d felt was a dream. 

 

A young man took a child to see an old king.