It is said that, in the last years before the Fall, the houses that united in the aftermath to form House FA’ANG were each, in their own right, immensely large and wealthy – even as men counted wealth before the fall, when a private sky-chariot was the least of the tools that a Head of House might command. And it is said further, that one of these houses was First among the Five; and although men differ on which one it was, they all agree that its motto was respect the opportunity, and that this motto was the source of its inexhaustible riches.
In these wiser, sadder post-Fall days, wealth is very exhaustible indeed; but opportunities remain, and we still respect them. Some opportunities, however, are best respected by carefully considering their nature. In particular, if you should see an opportunity to improve your results by cheating at the Imperial Exams, then you may, of course, consult your smuggled notes, or the carefully-concealed writing in the palm of your hand. Or alternatively, you may rephrase your thought, and instead see that you have an opportunity to avoid the eagle gaze of the proctors, and to demonstrate your strength in the face of temptation. Prefect Larry of EastBay did not make that connection, and was sent home with the brand of “cheater” on his forehead; and after that, for all his wealth and power, nothing in life went right for him.
No Californian respected a man who had not only cheated, but hadn’t even had the wit to do so without being caught. When Larry took up a loan to improve the roads around Oakland, the bankers called it in after a year instead of the agreed five – and, the money being spent, Larry had to default, and go through life twice branded as incompetent. When he announced a reform of the administration, the office-holders and sinecurists blatantly bribed his inspectors – and the inspectors, just as blatantly, took the bribes; for what moral authority could a cheater have? King Cullen took away the vice-prefecture of San Jose, which had been part of EastBay since before the Fall; and when Larry rose in rebellion over the issue, the Prefect of Wineland, likewise in rebellion against Cullen’s tyranny, promptly made peace, because she did not want her cause associated with a cheater. Only the intransigent peasantry of San Jose saved Larry from having to make a loyal submission and losing a third of his domain. And their stubborn guerrilla, that melted away the Gran Franciscan army and forced them to retreat, was nowise motivated in loyalty to Larry’s rule; it was merely the perennial enmity of Californian peasants to anyone who has not lived in their county for three generations, encapsulated in the chilling battle cry of the guerrillas, “NIMBY! NIMBY!”
When Larry died (officially of the flu, not usually deadly in a man forty years old) his children considered it the greatest achievement of his troubled reign that the writ of Alameda still ran from Berkeley to Gilleroy; and thanked Hubbard – at least publicly – that there were still three sub-prefectures for them to squabble over. The winner of the squabble was the Princess Elizabeth – and whatever she said in public, it became clear as her reign went on that she had taken her respect for opportunity into some dark places indeed.
Moloch is not like the weakling Satan of Christian mythology, that cares about the souls of single humans; Moloch whose mind is pure machinery inspires no petty individual sins of pride or lust. Moloch is the spirit of bad Nash equilibria, and works on entire societies at once, to ensure that everyone acts rationally in accordance with their self-interest to produce complete and universal misery. To worship Moloch – Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! – is perhaps the final word in respecting the opportunity to survive, to breed, to get ahead of your fellows. Nor does it fail to deliver, Moloch whose blood is running money; its worshippers truly do get ahead, provided only that they sacrifice everything that makes it worth doing so.
The Princess Elizabeth married for the sake of an alliance with Jefferson; and her children were raised in a foreign land, and were not of House FA’ANG in the sight of the world. She seduced two of the three electors of Gran Francisco for the sake of becoming Queen when King Cullen should die; and her degenerate lifestyle made men prefer to support Cullen’s son. She sacrificed her husband for power, and the strain marked her face with a subtle ugliness so that all who met her reported disliking her on sight, even while her portraits show a young woman of regular features and generous lips. Despairing of the election and rising in the ranks of the Bohemians, she finally gathered, by means best not interrogated too closely, the money to hire an army that would make her Queen. She raised the banner of rebellion, and by dark arts won three battles and besieged San Francisco itself – and at the height of the rebellion, with King Cullen’s armies scattered to the winds and the Franciscans starving in the streets, Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone laughed, and the gout that was the price of her infamous diet ripped its claws into her brain, and she died screaming.
There is another tradition of House FA’ANG, less well attested than the motto of respecting opportunity, not often given as a reason for action or shouted as a call to battle. The FA’ANG Chronicle does not mention it; the Fragmentary Codex gives the phrase, but only as a disconnected sentence without context; only in the Scroll of the Fall do we find anything like a historical account – and the Scroll mentions many fantastical events, and is not generally thought reliable by modern scholarship. Nevertheless, after learning about the lives and deaths of his grandfather and mother, the Prefect Doug found attractive the idea that, before respect the opportunity, the First of the Five had had another motto.
Don’t be evil.
Accordingly, he strove to be a model Cetic, the opposite in every respect of his mother. He read the works of the sages Yudkowsky and Alexander; he studied hard for the Exams; he went about his realm disguised as a humble petitioner, and personally executed any bureaucrat who accepted his offer of a bribe. As soon as he was eligible, he joined the Emperor’s Disciples, and by fasting and meditation rapidly rose through its ranks. By these means he soon convinced the electors – even those who had hated his mother, slept with his mother, or both – that he was a better candidate for Governatus than Goldin, the son of King Alfred. A safely theoretical assertion, one might think, since Alfred “the Monster”, son of Cullen, was a young man and might expect to reign for another four decades. The King, nonetheless, was not pleased, and in retaliation he attempted, as his father had done, to revoke San Jose from EastBay. War being a known Evil, Doug was not prepared for it and the battles did not go his way; but at the eleventh hour he was saved by the invasion of the Cascadians, which caused king Alfred to immediately move his army north to meet the tree-worshippers, and to make peace with his vassals.
Virtue has its rewards as much as vice does. Elizabeth and Larry strove all their lives to become monarchs of Gran Francisco, by means ranging from petty cheating to literal human sacrifice; each died unsatisfied after short lives of struggle and despair. Doug, on the other hand, spoke gently to the other electors and won them over by sheer kindness; won the hearts of the peasants by strangling the corrupt bureaucrats that oppressed them; and gained the support of the Teachers by the simple expedient of not desecrating their temples as his mother had done. And in return, the universe gifted him with the snake in king Alfred’s bedchamber, about whose source nothing was ever proved and which may, therefore, safely be regarded as miraculous. So a virtuous man sits the throne of Gran Francisco that wicked ones failed spectacularly to gain; and he turns his eye south, where Warhead Barbara of the Atomists rules rightful Cetic clay, and north, where the Cascadian druids encroach on holy Portland. And he ponders the three-word phrase that has gotten him where he is; but only he knows whether it’s “don’t be evil”, or a still older commandment, not derived from the mythic history of House FA’ANG, but lost in the origins of humanity.
Don’t get caught.