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John Charles strode through the long, silent hall. The soundless tremor of many boots ringing in martial unison menaced his course. There were soldiers in the square. He shivered, the swift suppression of paltry fear.  They would not check him now; the greatness of his errand would fly unnoticed in the face of the cruel normality of tyranny.  A small door on the right admitted him to a shadowy path traversed with the fluent irreverence of familiarity.   The whispered challenge issued, the watcher satisfied, and John Charles did not even blink at the sudden light of the council-room.

No greeting is given or expected.  This gathering cannot afford personality.  Many have been lost; many more would too easily be betrayed.  There were seven assembled: the chairman, the general, the poet, the purser, and three “advisors”. The first four held the power. John Charles and his fellows were, simply, spies.  The poet, protégé of the chairman, was in mid-tirade.

“Long has this state wielded secrecy and terror, the blackness of night and silence! Ever have its arrogant masters robbed the people while disdaining even to be seen.  How long must we also sulk in the darkness?  Will we not soon destroy the light of freedom by familiarity with shadow?”

“Haste is dangerous, young fool,” growled the purser.  “And though the fire of your song warms the hearts of the people, it also burns them with a dreadful cost.”

“I burn them? No, sir, it is not I, but this foul state that…”

“Gentleman!”  The old chairman roused himself as to a weary task, “Gentleman, we must save our strength for a worthy fight!”  “Sir,” to the purser, “your losses are very deep, but drink not yet of despair.”

“Young man, you are zealous in your poetry, but you have also diligence in your zeal.  I know how tirelessly you write the lifeblood of our people’s hope.  You are right.  Our lords have not only deprived us of our liberty, of our children, of our livelihood, of any of the honest pleasures or burdens of free life, they have created two worlds.  They gathered all that was useful and artful, and they cast us out.  And every child who has thought to read, every girl who has thought to sing, every man who has thought to soothe his brother’s illness, every one of our people who have unselfishly reached out of this despairing world have been attacked!  They slither amongst us, destroying any that would share in their treasures.  But no more!  Brother, give us your news.”

John Charles rose.  “You all know how terrible the persecution has become.  Director Theodore, though but a slave of the great lords, is even more terrible in his hatred than they.  Now he prepares our utter destruction.”  John Charles spoke clearly and softly, as if commenting on the weather.

“Theodore has risen to great favor with the king.  They meet face to face. The director received his final orders this morning.  The king has carefully guided his slave to this point, slowly crushing the resistance.  The lords are emboldened. Today he will leave the citadel and come against our people in the forests with his full force.”

“Then,” said the general, “It is just as we have planned it.”

“Yes.”

The king will die first.”  The purser spoke with dark pleasure.  “Are the rest of the lords marked well?

The second advisor nodded, “We found the last of them mere hours ago.”

The chairman stood. “The years have stretched and strained, victory came close, and fled again.  Now the final stroke is at hand. The price we have paid for this opportunity has been terrible.  The farmer and his band slaughtered, the forester vanished, and others were subjected to unspeakable things.  By your careful work, John Charles, the director’s plans were open to us. By your advice, time and time again we suffered that in his success he might gain the confidence of his masters. And now, by your, certain intelligence we will again be attacked in the forests.  But our lords will also fall, unguarded, in their homes.”

“And our diplomats are ready to secure recognition of our freedom from our friends abroad immediately we have wrested it from those cold hands that suffocated it,” the last of the advisors smiled with satisfaction.

“Then freedom will come at last,” was the whisper of the chairman, no less weary than before.

“I will not write again until men may sing not merely of freedom, but in it! It is strange, indeed,” the poet continued, looking at John Charles “that he who brings the news of the end should not rejoice more.  And yet, great joy is for those who have invested much!” he finished with a bow to the purser.

At this, general hope warmed the chamber.  But the chairman stood, stern weariness yet on his face, and looking gravely at John Charles, dismissed them.

“Gentleman, attend to your duties and farewell.”

That afternoon, even as the army finished its preparations, the assassins moved to their places.  They would strike as soon as the protection of the Director’s troops was diverted on its sinister task.  Suddenly, it was whispered through the imperial ranks that an unparalleled honor would be given them.  A royal review would see them off to what they knew would be a short but desperate fight.  The assassins smiled grimly.

John Charles strode through the long, silent hall.  The hushed murmur of massed anticipation swelled to meet him. There were soldiers in the square. A smile whispered across his face.  They would not check him now; his great errand the certain end of tyranny.  A small door on the left opened to a broad balcony.  The fevered silence peaked.  His gaze swept the plaza as he raised his arms in greeting.

“The King!” came the heralding cry.

“The King!” echoed the soldiers.

The crown had come to him when he was young.  By curiosity he had crossed into the world of suffering.  Terrible was the realization that his throne was too weak for justice. The great lords would simply erase the unseen king. And then he met the chairman, and together they plotted the freedom of his people.

Freedom did come. Songs were sung of the farmer and the forester, of the general and the purser.  And in a quiet churchyard corner stands a stone with this inscription:

JOHN CHARLES
The Great Investor
– A poet.

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I’m at home this weekend, on sick leave. I absolutely hate calling in sick, but left over sinus blockage from last week resulted in some nasty ear popping on Sunday evening. I had scheduling pull me off the remainder of my trip, and the doc has me on some medicine to fix the ears back up. The extra time off is useful, however, as I am in the process of buying a new house. The old one is wonderful, but it’s also 45 minutes away at best from my life and work. The new one is about 8 minutes (yes, I timed it) to church and about the same to work. Lord willing, the inspection will go well Wednesday, and I should close the 12th of next month.

I was rummaging through the hidden recesses of my kit bag, and came across this short story I wrote while sitting ready reserve in Chicago. It’s based on a flight from Toledo back to Chicago. I think it may be a bit overdramatic (likely due to the utter lack of drama in the crew room while I was writing), but I liked it enough at second discovery I decided I’d let other people see what they thought….

“The blackness of night veils the peril aloft, but a flash of lightning betrays the line of thunderstorms from which it darts. These occasional bursts of light confirm in brilliant silhouette what our radar suggests: heavy precipitation falls across our planned route to Chicago, stretching far to the south. The Captain alerts the flight attendant while I turn the lights up a bit lest we be blinded by the lightning. Both of us pull our charts for Chicago now, knowing it may be difficult once airborne.

Four minutes before our Expect Departure Clearance Time (EDCT, pronounced ‘edict’), I start the second engine and complete the taxi checks. Like clockwork, the tower clears us for takeoff exactly at the EDCT time. Our lights blaze pinpricks of white as we race upward into the darkness. Almost immediately, we feel the unrest of theses skies.

Checking on with Chicago center, we begin the chess game. These are the fall storms of the Great Lakes: violent, but without the spectacular vertical development of their Southern cousins. But air traffic control already has streams of aircraft cruising above them, and so we are forced to deviate laterally, swinging 90 degrees off track to the north.

Several minutes later, Chicago points out a friendly sight, another Eagle Embraer is also paralleling the storms, a mile in front and a thousand feet below. His miniscule presence against the immensity of the clouds is both comforting and sobering. We race north in silence, probing for the elusive gap; every minute takes us almost ten miles further off course.

Our makeshift formation is alone, ATC clears us to deviate as far north as the Canadian border, and then the nearness of the storm fills the radio with static. This is real flying. And then, finally, the weather weakens. We begin to turn: five degrees, another five, ten, twenty, the clouds give way. We break into the clear, the stars shining clearly about us.

But our worries are not over. We have burned a vast amount of fuel; as I accelerate to best forward speed the engines are consuming almost four thousand pounds an hour. Diversion seems certain for a moment, but then our dispatcher calls with the welcome news that we no longer require an alternate landing airport, freeing up enough reserve fuel that we may continue. Off to our right, the other Eagle breaks away, the storm defeated, but not soon enough.”

If nothing else, it was a fun way to pass the time on ready…. Oh, before you go, I finally updated safeguard last week, but it still wasn’t the ambassador article I keep promising. Nonetheless, go take a look, it’s a lot more edifying than what you’re reading here! I still have hopes for the ambassador article in the near future.

Nat

About the author…

Nat Simmons is an airline pilot, writer, and pianist. He's looking forward to "a better country, that is, a heavenly one;" he's content, however, to sojourn in Texas....