Prelude I (Op-ed)

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The Revolution That Will Never Be
By Natalina Casper, of the Tributary

The City ought to have burned.

It should have burned years ago. Perhaps before the Fifth. Perhaps even before the Fourth. Certainly long before now.

Beneath the feet of the new Maesters of the City, these cowards who cloak themselves in  titles of service such as 'Bureau Chief' or 'Member of Parliament', lies an endemic injustice that is killing the people most important to propping the City up.

Beneath High Central and the Districts immediately surrounding it lies the Undercity; two million people held under the boot of the Bureau of Resource Extraction and Distribution, more commonly called the Bureau of Collecting and Hoarding.

Much of the City think of the Undercity as some fantastical frontier, filled with lawless vagrants and vigilantes, where commerce and trade flourish and people are free to live as they please, like they could before the Gloam.

The people who think this have never, and will never step into the Undercity. More to the point, even if they wanted to, the Orderlies would probably prevent it. Well dressed people in senseless shoes tend to be beaten senseless in the Undercity.

The only rule that governs the Undercity is the Bureau's quotas. Stone, iron, and less common metals are mined and processed by the gangs, who control entire communities of people in varying degrees of squalor. Some are worked fourteen hours a day to meet the crippling amount of stone the Bureau of Resources needs to keep up with housing, reclamations, and the Walls.

Have you ever seen a child, so thin that you can see how her ribs didn't heal properly after her overseer beat her? A man with a beard halfway down his shrunken stomach, with jagged bones and skin a uniform sheen of that disturbingly sleek scarring that comes from second degree burns? A fat woman wandering with a small cadre of people dressed in a sick imitation of high society, who openly shows everyone she passes that fire cannot burn her?

This obviously isn't everyone's fate, even in the Undercity. Pretty children are pressed into comfort houses, large boys are moulded into the muscle that maintains order, and the clever ones are given the complicated tasks that ought to be left to qualified engineers and surveyors. The sick are left in the streets and dark corners, or sometimes just put down and thrown into the incinerators, like so much defective machinery. Entire families work together, the young children carry dirty water and push carts while adults do work that ought to be done by machines.

Disease rips through the populace unchecked, malnutrition and festering medical problems are left untreated, and the worst suffer irregular bouts of hypoxia from the deep mines being illumined by open fire.

Disease is allowed to run rampant because Hospice services don't exist down there. There is no running water, except what the mines themselves require. Refuse is burnt, rather than run through sewers. Food is hoarded by the gangs and used to maintain order. Reject Crafters often find well rewarded employment disciplining workers that get out of line.

How was this allowed to be? How have we, the last corner of humanity in a world drowned beneath the Gloam, tolerated so much inhumanity?

Especially since it is not beyond the great powers of the City to set right. A single Bureau would bend over backwards to assuage the demands of Parliament, were it backed by the indignation of even one other Bureau. The Orderlies would leap at a chance to put the Gangs out of work, and if they lacked the muscle the Army would handily back them. What are thugs with sticks to disciplined soldiers?

Even the Rejects, the greatest of the Gang's enforcers, have no real power to defy the might of the City. How could a Reject compare with Starval Roster, who stopped tens of thousands of Gloamtaken during the First? Or Marcus Treal, who held the Gloam back from an entire district for three days after the pipes had been broken during the Third? Or Olivia Polden, who brought down a Golem single-handed during the Fifth?

How much worse can these privileged enforcers be than the rages of the scourged, that the Bureau of Oversight deals with? Crafters assisting Oversight could end every gang in just a few months.

Then why, when the crimes are so heinous, and so solvable, will we do nothing for them?

Because do not doubt it, dear reader. We will do nothing for them. The City must burn, and the suffering of multitudes is rendered utterly irrelevant when weighed against that imperative. The Gangs hold an essential demand of the City hostage, and so long as they are meeting the quotas that the Bureau of Resources set, no one will willingly upset that train.

The walls must be built. So must cannons, canals and carts. All of these are built with the resources the gangs supply us, and matching their productivity humanely could take years, after the years it would take to clean the mess that wiping out the Gangs would cause. Years that walls and weapons aren't being built, and the City falls behind its mandated growth projections.

And the Sixth is imminent. Let us remember that.

The Undercity is owed a revolution, and it is owed a great deal more than that from us. They live in an underworld all too real, sacrificed in the pits as fuel for the fires keeping the City alight. But unless we somehow kill the Gloam, we will not see the day when we can afford to let our foot off their collective throats.

And yet, I ask myself and you, do we deserve our survival, if this is what it requires?

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