It was a little phrase, really. Two syllables. The idea behind it though took up so much space – no-one had realised both that ideas could grow to fit the available space and how the available space for ideas could be altered. Those at the top of the Hierarchy of Necessity, the directors of Nineveran society, had no space in their minds for other ways of doing things –partly because they received considerable benefits from the way the Hierarchy worked and partly because the Hierarchy did work; it had gotten Ninevera successfully through the aftermath of The Crash while the surrounding cultures that hadn’t followed it, such as Gloid, Akkamon and Betrant were gone, vanished from the world.
The top of the Hierarchy weren’t its only supporters, of course. All those portions of the Hierarchy that had all their needs met and felt that they and their contributions were valued supported it. Few of them had room for any ideas that things could be different. There were, however, sections of the Hierarchy that felt undervalued and whose needs were not being met. People who couldn’t get sufficient work to provide for their needs or whose work was exchanged for necessities at a lower rate than others. They were interested in the foreign phrase that came from Talibar, carried on ships powered by unbleached sails.
They whispered the phrase, one to another, as they laboured long into the evening while others, who didn’t work as hard or as long as they did, gathered in taverns and handled their social necessities. Social necessities that not everyone was afforded. Someone tallied the time some people got to spend on social necessities and catalogued the specialist locations that they could use to deal with them in.
Someone spread the tally sheet and even people who’d never seen it, discussed it.
Then someone else worked out what went into the homes of those at the top of the Hierarchy and how many people lived in those homes. Those figures circled in mutterings of increasingly resentful innuendo and speculation. Comparisons were made. Scrutiny of the Hierarchy had not been so intense in generations.
Naturally, eventually, the mutterings came to the ears of the directors of the Hierarchy. Their initial reaction was to dismiss them because the Hierarchy worked.
The muttering and the dissent didn’t stop, in fact it got worse. The directors called in the chief Talibaran merchant then in port and told him, “Stop it.”
The man was confused and asked, “Stop what?”
“Stop trying to convert our people to your way of doing things.” The directors were implacable.
“Your honours, I‘m not trying to convert anyone to anything. I’m a merchant trying to buy and sell trade goods.” He spread his hands as if to show that they were empty. “Speak to anyone I’ve dealt with, I’m sure they’ll tell you the same.”
“Where else could this talk have come from,” demanded one of the directors, “if not from you?”
“Talk of what, exactly?” The merchant was cautious.
“This ‘fair pay’ thing you are so proud of,” clarified the director.
“No prouder than you are of the Hierarchy of Necessity,” the merchant pointed out with dignity. “Perhaps your people have been asking questions of my men.”
“Why would they do that of their own free will? No,” the director shook his head firmly. “This is the result of interference and you will cease it or feel or displeasure.”
“As you wish,” the merchant said resignedly and thought about not coming back to Ninevera, despite the profits.
The merchant departed and, just as the directors of the Hierarchy were congratulating themselves for having dealt with the crisis a directorial assistant arrived, himself the son of a director and presumed to be a director in training. “Excellencies, a notice has arrived from the Overseer of the Hierarchy.”
“I thought we’d gotten rid of that Office,” remarked one of the directors conversationally.
“Only neutered it,” corrected one of the others. “These days the Overseer has to get a quorum of the Hierarchy to do anything, and he’d never get that.”
The assistant swallowed hard and said, “But he has, Excellency. Or, rather, a quorum has him. The notice says that a properly constituted quorum of the Hierarchy has compelled him to open an investigation into both the production and distribution assignments of Necessities and the directors’ execution of their responsibilities in this regard.” He put the paper on the desk in front of them and backed away.
“They can’t-,” said someone.
“I can,” said the Overseer, stepping into the room, a thin and threadbare man. “And I will. Let’s start by suspending you all for the duration of the investigation, shall we?”