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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

The Rise and Decline of the Newlander System
by Harry MacDonald

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There was once a tiny world, and within it, many tiny lands. One of these was a beautiful and lush green land called Newland, and the tiny worldlings who lived there were called Newlanders. They knew they were tiny but for years it didn't bother them at all. Their lives were simple, and they didn't depend on anybody else. They grew their own food, made their own clothes and lived peaceful lives as free individuals. Their language was called Ingsbit, which came from the old land of Ingsbiton. Life was good, they all agreed.

But one day, some of the Newlanders decided they wanted to be big.

"Let's form a system," one of them said.

"What would it do?" another asked.

"It would work for the benefit of Newland and all its worldlings. It would ensure them of their safety, of representation, economic stability and would improve the... whatever."

It seemed like a worthwhile idea, and those in the little group rubbed their hands together in anticipation. Then they rubbed their hands some more. Somehow doing that made them feel bigger and they liked that feeling. There would be nothing to compare with the System, they all said. So they went around speaking to other worldlings about it. Some liked the idea. Others argued there was no need for it.

"We'll vote on it," they said. It was an exciting day and many of them came out to vote, though some shrugged their shoulders and stayed home. But in the end, The Newlander System was born.

Then it was decided that worldlings were needed to run the System, so they held another vote to elect them. As the winners stood before the crowd rubbing their hands, they were heralded by one of their own as visionaries for the future. And with every oration and smattering of applause, they rubbed their hands faster and faster, until a gasp was heard from the crowd. Behold, the worldlings said - the heads of the elected ones had gotten bigger! All hail the elected ones!

They had become the Systemers, and things would never be the same again.

Their first order of business was the creation of a Manifesto, which was written in such a way that most Newlanders could not understand it. Next, they created an executive branch and elected a Penster, who would have the final say on all matters. A currency was needed, they said, so they printed lots of little papers called dillies, which were backed by soraire, a precious metal. And so the dillies were handed out and the Newlanders said that it was a good thing.

But soon after, the Systemers created a tax.

"Nobody said there would be a tax!" the worldlings cried.

"Well," the Systemers said, "it's needed so we can be paid. And we also need to build a proper hall in which to meet. There won't be another tax after this."

"Do you promise?" the worldlings asked.

"Well... As you know, matters of the greatest importance might arise at anytime... Further review of written policies may be required, thus revealing the limitations of the legislation currently in place..."

That was when the Systemers first began to talk in circles.

The Newlanders didn't like it but they didn't know what else to do, and so they gave a lot of their dillies back to the System. And the hall was built, though it was lot bigger than originally planned.

The Systemers's next order of business was to state that there should be two political parties, and the worldlings questioned it.

"Having two parties will create a mindset of differences and division."

"No, no," the Systemers countered. There are two sides to every issue, and this way everything will be out in the open and therefore resolved sooner."

"But it will produce an endless battle for power."


And so the two parties were established - the Neats and the Whynots, and they immediately went at odds with each other. But despite their differences, the parties managed to work together long enough to create the What You Make Tax, with a manual so big that at least one Newlander hurt his eyes trying to read it all. After that, they decided to have delegates for deciding elections, which meant that the votes of the individuals no longer truly counted. Exactly why they did that was anyone's guess.

Soon after, the Systemers had an idea to provide for the older generations and so they created a When You Get Old Fund. In a way, it was another tax. But it was explained that each Newlander who paid into it would then start receiving it back when they got too old to work. Hooray, they all said, while not noticing that the System did not create an actual fund in which to save the dillies.

Over the years, the Systemers spent a lot of time thinking and talking. They realized they needed to think of themselves too, and so they raised their own pay. Actually, they doubled it, even though many of them already had a lot of dillies. There were always new things to spend on. They held lavish banquets for themselves and awarded themselves huge pensions. Other, more radical members of the Whynots, whom some worldlings referred to as the Hastoohs, wrote books with the word Power in the titles, and with each day the heads of all the Systemers grew some more.

Newland then saw a fantastic (or so it seemed at first) age of invention. Tiny propulsion vehicles were invented, which the Newlanders called toolies. Then came little contraptions that flew through the air called spinnies. Still other things were created, which in another world might have been called TVs, cell phones and computers. The Newlanders prided themselves in their abilities at manufacturing, and their economy flourished.

The toolies they drove were powered by tiny, colorful crystals called zarts, which were mined from a large hole, and within it was a seemingly (and hopefully) endless supply. One day, a group of Systemers stood looking at the mine and rubbing their hands, and that's when they decided that every zart should be taxed. The decision angered many Newlanders, but it would have angered them more had they realized that the Systemers didn't even have to pay for their zarts in the first place.

By then, the Systemers's heads had gotten so big that special braces had to be built to hold them up.

Over time, Newlanders started losing their occupations and they noticed that more and more of the things they bought were being made by the Slants, who lived in a far off land. Among those things were the toolies and electronics that they loved. And the worldlings in the southern region were especially upset at not being able to make their own clothes anymore but the System did nothing to help them. The Systemers said that free trade was good, and everyone should just accept it, despite the fact that it was unbalanced and the Slants didn't import much of anything from Newland.

That's when the Newlanders realized that the Systemers had stopped listening.

One day, some slimy little purple creatures with tails were seen in the dirt at the place where the zarts were dug, and some worldlings came to look at them. While there, they declared themselves environmentalists.

"These are endangered zings," they said. "You won't be able to dig here anymore."

"But we have to," cried the miners. "Worldlings need the zarts. We'll just move the creatures over there a ways."

"No, that is too dangerous," said the environmentalists, many of whom were Whynots. So they ran to the Systemers, and not long afterwards the System said that the digging would stop and all the zarts would be bought from the Robedwuns. Never mind that the Robedwuns lived far away, they all said, and soon the price of zarts got very high.

Then one day, the Newlanders were shocked when the Robedwuns attacked one end of Newland with huge, pointy airborne projectiles.

"We must defend ourselves!" they shouted, and they went around waving little flags made by the Slants. Anger at the Robedwuns was rampant. Their traits were studied and it was noticed that the old land of Ingsbiton had allowed them to chant in the streets. That won't happen here, the Newlanders said. So the System voted and an army was sent to fight the Robedwuns, only they didn't send enough soldiers to get it done. Then the Whynots became afraid to fight and tried to say they had voted no, when they had actually voted yes. They blamed the Neat Penster for the war and they set a poor example with the way they behaved. At the same time the media became biased in favor of the Whynots. Then, even as the Newland Army started winning, the Whynots declared that all was lost, with the intent of making the Neats look bad. Some worldlings realized that the Whynots didn't want to win the war at all and were just interested in their own political power.

To most Newlanders, that was when the Systemers stopped making sense.

Another matter was the influx of the Fangoze, who lived farther south in a poor and corrupt land. They had stayed there for a long time but suddenly more and more of them starting coming to Newland without invitation. Most of them couldn't even speak Ingsbit, yet because they worked for less they managed to take jobs away from the Newlanders. It was remarkable that it was even allowed in the first place, but it eventually became such that many businesses did not know how to function without them. For years, the System didn't even talk about them but they finally acknowledged their presence after the worldlings complained loudly enough. But even then they didn't admit their failure to do anything, saying only that it had become too late to send them all back. That was especially fine for the Whynots, who saw the opportunity to have even more people depending on the government. They even said that the Fangoze should be given full Newlander status, including the right to vote.

It became apparent that the Systemers had quit caring what the worldlings thought of them.

Then to the dismay of the Newlanders, there came a series of problems that had them throwing up their hands and wondering when things would stop. Schools became an arm of the System and every possible chance to overreact was seized upon. All references to the Creator were thrown out and there were no good influences to keep the children from being brainwashed by an entertainment industry with no morals. What's more, as a captive audience they were subjected to the rants and raves of liberal educators who disliked the land in which they lived.

War, economy and energy stayed foremost in the news. Though another attack from the Robedwuns seemed less likely, the threat never went away, as it was known that the intent of the fanatics was to destroy the economic prosperity of Newland. An additional worry surfaced the day it was declared that dillies were no longer backed by soraire. That was when a few Newlanders realized that they were just backed by a faith that the Robedwuns would not be able to make all the computers crash. Still other wise worldlings wondered how a land that had become so divided and dependant on other lands could fight a War of the World if it were to happen. To many, it seemed that everything was hanging in a delicate balance.

On the energy front, it was said that the tiny world was getting warmer and so a certain Whynot flew around in his private spinnie to spread the word.

Over time, things became even more frightening and complex. Even after years of hearing that zarts were getting less plentiful and more expensive, the worldlings, with no direction from the System, found themselves driving much farther to get places, and in toolies that were almost as big as buses. And as a result, they began to drive way too fast, and lost all sense of courtesy when behind the wheel. Even the smaller, local Systems contributed to the sprawl by conducting their business far from the towns. The Whynots then started a disturbing trend of the Newlanders building homes that were bigger than what they needed, and spending more dillies than they had. Companies were just as bad, often going bankrupt from trying to get too big, then trying to get out of bankruptcy by getting bigger still.

Then, with the help of a biased media, uninformed voters elected a Hastooh Penster, and the System just kept getting bigger and bigger, to the point that too many worldlings looked to it to handle and pay for every aspect of their lives. Businesses were taxed in every way possible and they lost their sense of capitalism, which was what had made the land great up till then. As a result, the worldlings began to work for the System instead of the other way around. Money was borrowed from funds that didn't exist, stocks tumbled, and the economy stagnated.

By then, the worldlings knew that the Systemers only cared about themselves.

The high cost of health care was another matter and by the time the Systemers started taking it seriously it had gotten too high to fix, so they talked about the high cost of insurance instead. Unable to fix that either, the Whynots pushed to enact the National Feel Better Program, which only served to add to the unbelievable System debt, and made Newlanders have to wait six months to get to see a doctor. When lucky enough to see one, many complained of a lack of sleep from being overwhelmed with complications such as miles per zart and cell phone options. And not to be forgotten were conditions brought on by the Painful P's: PIN numbers, passwords and PPO's.

Meanwhile, the Fangoze, whose presence had caused so much bickering over the years, started coming in by the droves and bringing unnecessary crime and financial burden to each area they settled in. There had been talk of building a wall to keep them out, but on the suggestion of the Whynots, the System instead spent millions of dillies to build them an incredibly wide foot bridge.

"The Newland of old would not have allowed this!" the worldlings cried. Unable to just stand by and watch anymore, they took to the streets and cried out about the state of things.

"We don't make anything for ourselves anymore! All we do is buy! And share each other's information!"

It had finally reached a point where the Newlanders realized that the Systemers, both Neats and Whynots, had ruined everything, and they all marched to the Great Hall of the System, which by the way had been enlarged greatly to accommodate the size of their heads. And the worldlings burst in and were amazed by what they saw. The heads of the Systemers were so big and bloated that their faces had become distorted, and their eyes were hidden behing rolls of fat. To the Newlanders, they looked like overripe, cracked vegetables about to burst. Specially built round, cushioned cubicle walls held their heads up, and it was evident that they had not walked on their own in years. Upon close inspection, it was noticed that their tiny bodies were still there underneath and their pockets were overstuffed with dillies.

The worldlings tried to speak to them.

"When elected," one of them said, "each of you promised to save the When You Get Old Fund but you haven't. At the same time we have been encouraged to do nothing but buy and buy. And how can you expect us to save when you don't set any examples of saving?"

But the Systemers were not listening and instead spoke in circles to each other. At the same time they rubbed their hands and the rubbing got so loud that the worldlings covered their ears. And the Systemers heads grew even bigger and bigger, until they began to rub against each other with terrible grating noises. The cubicles rattled and began to break open. One of the Systemers toppled over, and his giant head landed upside down while his tiny body and legs thrashed at the top. Then one by one they each fell over and began to roll. The entire building began to shake, and the frightened worldlings ran for their lives. As the walls fell, the Systemers burst out and rolled over trees and houses. Finally, they got so big that the worldlings could not see the sky.

That's when the worldlings felt their feet coming out from under them.

"It must be a world quake!" they cried, as they balanced themselves on their hands and knees. After that came an even bigger movement which caused all the worldlings to fall over and roll a long way.

The tiny world had tilted down from having so much weight in one place. Then everyone fell again as the world rolled up and briefly righted itself. But finally, it turned downward again and there it stayed.

The Newlanders were at the bottom of the world. They didn't know it at first, but then the cold air told them. No one knew what to say. Then to their horror, someone cried out that the zarts had lost their color. The Systemers are to blame, they cried, and they rolled the giant heads to the shore and set them adrift on the sea. The Newlanders watched as the heads appeared smaller and smaller in the distance, and someone commented that they never thought they'd see the day.

The Fangoze, as it turned out, could not stand the cold and they went back to their land, which was by then to the north and only slightly warmer. And the Robedwuns left also, saying there was no world power left for them to hate.

The Newlanders were tiny again. For a long time they stood there contemplating what had come and gone. No more System. No more zarts or taxes. They looked at each other and started to smile. Grateful for the opportunity before them, they set about the task of making warm clothes for themselves.

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