Dear blog readers:
I wrote the following story in reply to Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”. If you haven’t read it yet, then please hasten to do so. I sent a copy of this story last week, Wednesday August 28, 2013, to Le Guin herself. I wrote to her, “Fear not, this story is as nonviolent as yours, though perhaps the people of Omelas would disagree”. The drone was armed with a laser, antimatter, and worst of all, the truth.
To Annihilate Utopia
A Reply-Story by Nathaniel Hellerstein
“The terms are strict and absolute; there may not be even a kind word spoken to the child.”
- Ursula K. LeGuin, “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”
A Kind Word
The war-drone rocketed over the mountain pass at Mach 3. Far behind lay home base, in control by radio; before it lay its target, a beautiful city bright-towered by the sea: Omelas.
Omelas! City of joy! City of happiness! Paradise! Utopia! Or so its inhabitants called it; but the drone’s furious senders gave it other names, for even Utopia has rivals and enemies. They sent the drone for good reasons and bad; for justice but also vengeance, for virtue but also power, for love but also wrath.
The Angel-class drone homed in on the city. The antimatter-powered flying machine, no bigger than your hand, hurtled over the Green Fields at Mach 2. It passed over the Farmer’s Market at Mach 1; its sonic boom rang like a gunshot, for this was not a stealth mission. People looked up and pointed, but it was too late. The drone had already reached its destination; the Child’s Mansion.
It hovered high, balanced on its jets. It unfurled wings and powered down engines. It descended to ground level on flittering, glittering wings. It sought and found a cellar door. Seven searing slashes of laser light; the door’s charred fragments clattered to the ground.
Into the Mansion, down the hall. Turn left, turn right, and there, look; a locked door. Far away, the drone’s operators nodded to each other. They recognized that door, having seen it themselves.
Seven laser blasts; the door collapsed. Within, a small room. Two paces by three. Dirt floor. A bucket. Mops. And huddling in the corner, naked, wide-eyed, staring, shivering;
Far away, the drone’s operators nodded to each other. Target acquired!
The drone said, “Fear not, and follow me.”
The Child glanced at the mops, then looked at the drone and shook its head.
“Those,” the drone said with disgust. A laser slash; the mops were ash. “Now quick, hurry, they’re coming, we haven’t much time.”
It flittered out the door, the Child tottering behind on spindly legs. Down the hall, turn left, turn right, and out the door. The Child ran five paces, then collapsed and lay on its back, panting, for it was years since it had walked so far. The Child clutched the grass and blinked at the sky; it gasped and sobbed.
The drone hovered above the Child. It said, “You poor sweet innocent child, I come to tell you the truth. And the truth is, you deserve better. None of your misery is your fault. It’s your trap, it’s your torture, it’s your pain and torment, but it’s not your fault.”
The Child’s eyes streamed tears. The drone said, “You should be clean. You should be warm. You should be well fed. You should be cared for. You should be loved. You should be healthy. You should be happy. You should be free.”
The drone rose on glittering wings. It started engines and blasted high into the sky, up, up and away.
Far away the drone’s operators nodded to each other. Payload delivered; mission accomplished.
The Insolent Sky
It was not the Child’s rebellion that annihilated Omelas. They found her giggling and blowing seeds off a dandelion puffball, but that was not what ruined the City. She was never the same again; she wept no more, and sometimes she laughed; but that was not what doomed Omelas. She escaped, on her own, once, twice, a dozen times; eventually someone spirited her far away; but that was not what destroyed Omelas.
What destroyed Omelas was the fact that it was not destroyed. For after such an outrage, how dare the sky be blue? By what right did the crops keep growing, the electricity flowing, the float-lamps glowing? What possessed the sea to not rise, the earth to not quake? Shouldn’t disaster have struck, within the day, within the very hour, that the drone spoke a kind word to the Child?
If only the drone had detonated! If only it had blasted Omelas to atoms! Had it vaporized the city with the fire of a thousand suns, then the few survivors would have suffered and mourned, but they would have rebuilt Omelas, bigger and better, happier and lovelier than ever; and within it another Child, writhing under even better tortures!
But that was not the plan of Utopia’s rivals and enemies. For good reasons and bad, their fury was too great to grant Omelas the mercy of death. They demanded no less than the refutation of its soul.
For the people of the city, unharmed, had to ask each other; what now of the teachings? Didn’t we know that our happiness, health, wealth, skill, beauty and delight depended wholly upon the Child’s abominable misery? Weren’t those the terms? Wasn’t that what our scholars taught? What then of their wisdom? Have we lied to ourselves, all these years, all those Children?
Had the sky bled red, then Omelas would have survived; but no, the insolent sky stayed blue, as if nothing had happened at all.
The city survived, and thus was annihilated. Omelas remained, but was no longer Omelas.