Interlude 3

The City of the Birds

In the first years of settlement, the planets of the Swilli system—Kameldeergard, Accounticon, Golf, and Fundamentarlia—never enjoyed among themselves cordial relations. Eventually some of the diligent people of Accounticon took to vacationing on Kameldeergard. A sort of tourist industry livened the leisurely pace of life on Kameldeergard as more baskets were woven, more sandals made to sell to the tourists. In this way consulates were evolved, and diplomatic missions established ties. All was friendliness.

Not so with the planet Golf. At first the planet Golf tried to invade Kameldeergard, but the unruffled curiosity of the inhabitants and their casual attire repelled the invaders, or at least led them to believe the invasion beneath their dignity. The people of Golf were more successful against Accounticon at first. But then these latter tallied up their losses, grew alarmed, deliberated, went underground to form a resistance, and so successfully repelled the invasion that they, in turn, invaded Golf and forced them to establish diplomatic missions. In this way, ties were established here also. This softening influence was greatly decried by a faction of the humiliated inhabitants of Golf. The great majority of the Golfers, however, were won over to the ways of the Accounticoni, and some even took to vacationing on Kameldeergard.

And the last planet? It had no relations with its neighbors whatever. The people of Golf scorned to invade it, the people of Accounticon were not curious about it, and by the time the laid-back inhabitants of Kameldeergard were informed that Fundamentarlia was inhabited, their language had changed so much they lacked any adequate way to talk about it. So it remained alone, remote, and mysterious.

The story of the faction that resented the influence of Accounticon in Golf is a strange one. They withdrew into the desert behind the remote mountain of Hinga Lum Dura and built for themselves there a city, refusing to have contact except with strictly neutral parties. Unfortunately for this faction, there were no resources in the desert other than gigantic and previously undiscovered reserves of titanium. This dilemma, so crucial to their founding, presented them with a problem, the resolution of which stamped the lines of their character ever after. After a long argument they dispatched eight of their number in different directions over the desert. Each of the messengers bore with him an ingot of titanium along with a written advertisement complete with glowing, albeit entirely mendacious, endorsements by the leading titanium experts of Golf. These endorsements were cleverly distributed in the different directions in a way calculated to postpone the detection of the mendacities. The ruse was indeed soon detected, but not before the first caravans of merchants had arrived and a brisk trade had begun.* With trade the city grew, its subterranean arsenal was filled, expanded, filled again with more advanced weaponry, further expanded, and the birds of the desert came to dwell on the protrusions of its towering, grotesque exterior.

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*There were lawsuits, of course, but the Titanics, as they now called themselves, refused to go to court or to allow anybody but the merchants near their city. The lawyers tried to get an embargo against the city, but the titanium wholesalers paid the lawyers—and their clients, the experts—off, and the whole thing fizzled out. “Somebody,” the Grand Master of Golf said to the assembled executives of the Bureau of Advertising Ethics, “Has to mine that titanium.” And there the matter rested. This outcome would never have happened on the planet Golf without the influence of the conquering Accounticoni. Before, it would have been war. Now everybody reached for their calculators and ledgers before they reached for their guns. In fact, not many even carried guns anymore. If anybody pointed out to the disgruntled Titanics how the very reason for their grievance was also the means of their deliverance from otherwise certain extermination, it is nowhere recorded.

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