Challenge #01891-E067: Stop, ChildrensteemCreated with Sketch.

in fiction •  last year

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I can't be the only one who, when consuming media focusing around the notion of "mythology made modern" (taking fantasy creatures and putting them in our time and place like they've always been there), gets kinda tired of the sort of "prejudice is the conflict" thing best described as "black and white gang up on green".
You know, the situation where lazy/bad writers rename "white supremacy" as "human supremacy", heavy-handedly portray the fantasy races with negative human stereotyping (making orcs and goblins the targets seems especially common, usually with orcs being the tusked stand-in for "ghetto black thugs" and goblins having "gangbanger Latino", "Italian mafioso", and/or "greedy coward Jew" traits), and adding a few darker humans into the crowd of mostly-white bigots to look superficially balanced.
There's gotta be some way to break the cycle of this trope. -- Anon Guest

[AN: There is. It's called "thinking things through". Like... how would the modern world develop with multiple intelligent species in it? Answer: it would be unrecognisable]

There are cities just like this one all over the world. Bustling metropolises full of people of all colours, all creeds, and all species. Faeries nest in the eaves of human buildings. Orcs run the sanitation crews. Goblins are everywhere - but since when weren't Goblins everywhere? They're clever and cunning and when allowed to learn, they will. The streets are full of steam and the latests counterculture is taking over an area of the tall buildings, and some of Central Park.

This is the Age of Man, of invention and rockets to the moon, and it is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. At least, it is if you're part of the Summer of Love.

Young Orcs have flocked to it. Because they can achieve love and understanding despite the race riots and segregation. Despite struggling and struggling against their multiracial oppressors. Despite any claims that slavery was 'a hundred years ago'. It wasn't. Some Elves speak out. A species with long lives and longer memories can be a ball in other's courts. If they're on the other side.

Young humans have flocked to it. Because they honestly believe that love can change the world. In a decade or two, they will be pulling all kinds of shenanigans to grab hold of as much money as they could, in a time when Greed Was Good. But for now, they believed in peace and harmony. That growing their own food was a revolution. That the government was too mean and that prejudice needed to end.

And they believed in a lot of weed, a lot of booze, and maybe some other interesting pharmeceuticals while they were there.

There was no call for coal. Not with magic to run things. Horseless carriages were drawn by Phantom Steeds, customisable by their users if that was necessary. Birth control radicalised the people, all the people, and now that women of all species had freedom of choice, there was an amazing ruckus all over the world.

Women, especially, flocked to the counterculture. To the new potion that made that they were freed from the obligations of reproduction. To the freedom that men only had once enjoyed to make love without consequence. Well. Without the enormous consequences of a new life. There was still a great deal of venereal diseases, but antibiotics and vaccinations looked to be ending disease.

So, in camps in Central Park, in communal buildings on the dingier parts of the city, young people of all species gathered together to dream of a future they could only comprehend now.

And in this one place, an older Elf of six hundred and change sat in a rocking chair and told a crowd of teens or younger about how it was in his time.

"None of this bricks and mortar," said the sage. "None of this con-crete and ash-phalt. No flushing toilets, either. Gotta keep those. But maybe keep the overflow out of our oceans. There's nasty things in poop, my dears. It makes diseases. I survived fifteen cholera outbreaks. Fifteen. Gotta keep the pathogens the heck away from us and everything we eat. That's just wisdom."

The assembled flower children nodded.

"Now your kind," he pointed out an Orc. "Your kind had a smart idea. Plough it into the fields, but grow the things for making out of it. Cotton. Hemp. Trees. All of that. It doesn't matter if the pathogens get into that. They don't leak out. They don't get into our guts or anything. And I tell you, an Orc tree farm grew lumber twice as fast as any other. Didn't want to get downwind of one. Whew! That's were all the horrible stories about smelly Orcs came from. Very economical people, the Orcs. Didn't get a lot of anything, so they used every ounce of the nothing they had. Sensible. Not like humans these days."

The audience waited, open-mouthed, for the next part of wisdom to come to them as the elderly Elf stared into the mists of time.

"Cities were never meant to be this hunchbacked. My folk... we spread ourselves out. Wide Elven forests. Before the humans cut them down for paper. Paper! You can make it out of hemp. You can make half the world out of hemp. But what are they making? Plas-tech. Out of dinosaurs.... That's what oil is. Fat dinosaurs got pickled in the earth for... mmm... thousands and millions of thousands of years. And now they're making plas-tech. In huge factories where nobody can work because the air... is poison. You buy a plas-tech chair, it cracks! It breaks. It bends and once it's broken, you can't do a thing with it but throw it in the midden. And then it just sits there. Useless. When a wood chair breaks, you can take the broken piece off and replace it. Burn the broken part and boil a kettle. Or carve a toy for your young one. Eh? Mark me. One day we'll be swimming in plas-tech broken junk and there'll be no space for anything."

Of course they listened. Of course they knew it to be true. That year.

Humans live fast, compared to Elves. Orcs live even faster, with a biology built to endure the slings and arrows of everything that would hate and kill an orc[1]. And in a year or two, only the die-hard fanatics were even involved in alternative ways of doing things. And those people... had to be practical.

And sooner or later, the giants of commerce had their way, and nobody was left to listen to an old Elf who had seen it all come and go. He did what Elves did best: wait.

Ten years. Twenty years. Thirty. The world began to fill with plastic and disposable things that could not be reduced, re-used, or recycled. The short-sighted humans continued to devalue Orcs and keep them down, and make a mess of the world in the process. The longer-lived Elves kept to their remote hide-aways and shunned the modern era until it grew up and learned some sense.

Forty years. Denial was strong in some humans - especially the humans who made money off of the plastics they sold. But the rest of them were becoming aware. Plastics were piling up. And poisoning fish. Which then poisoned people. Important people.

And once important people began to suffer the consequences, that's when things changed.

The old Elf who had once lectured the teens wasn't even in his seven hundreds by the time it happened. People were buying his books again. People were asking him to talk to people. People were paying him to do so.

His starting speech was brief. "Maybe now you'll listen to what I've always been saying: Learn. From. The Other." He almost walked off the stage. "I'm betting most of you don't understand. Let me explain."

And that took more than a few hours.

Elves styled themselves as the educators of other species. And they were right. They had a whole lifetime to watch the patterns of other species' mistakes. They could even hang around, wait, and tell the others, "I told you so," when one species fell and the other began to rise.

The Age of Man was crumbling. High time for the Age of Orcs. At least they knew how to get by on scarcities. Maybe they'd learn from Elves who would teach them how to bank their plenties.

[1] Also known as: everyone else.

[Image (c) Can Stock Photo / Fotolit]

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