Sun Ra - Column for 12/16

Where Oso Comes From

Well, I'm gonna cheese out again and leverage something else I wrote for my weekly column. I'm having trouble coming up with something funny that has a coherent theme, anyways. Since I have to write two columns this week, as I'll be off in blessed California for the holidays and really ought to have those columns in early, it seems only prudent to conserve my writing juice.

So, what we have here is an introduction I wrote for my Dagorhir 'character'. Dagorhir is a group of people who dress up in medieval-esque costume for battles, at which they hit each other with padded sticks. And fall down a lot. It's rather a lot of fun, although as I am just getting into it I have no armor or anything, and as such am what military strategiests would call an "irregular" and most people would call "cannon fodder". But I do get to hit people with padded sticks.

Anywhoo, in Dagorhir you have to play someone who fits a bit better with the milieu than a twenty-first century American. Now, don't go getting the impression that Dagorhir is a serious re-enactment group. It's a lot zanier than that. This isn't even the rattan weapons and metal armor of the SCA. We have people out on the battlefield who look like they stepped out of a Games Workshop game. But it is supposed to be fantasy, which means that you need to be someone else. So in Dagorhir, I go by the name "Oso".

The unit I'm in is a particularly zany one, known as the Guard. It almost defines "irregular". Since the primary Guard inspirations are the various Guards novels of Terry Pratchett (who Harlock thinks is a hack but is at regular intervals the best selling novelist in Britain, and Harlock is known for detesting anything the hoi polloi like), I went with a Discworld sort of origin. Mixed with a certain amount of real information about where I'm from.

And here it is.

The island of Fisco, somewhere in the direction of the setting sun, is all that remains of the once-groovy Empire of Fisco. A tremendous calamity (lost to the mists of time but thought to have been an earthquake, a tsunami, or a truly out of hand block party) sank the entire empire beneath the sea, save only the capital city (Fisco) and the farmlands immediately surrounding it, which were protected by strong dykes, er, dikes, built to increase property values by allowing the inhabitants to pretend that the rest of the world wasn't really there.

At any rate, the Fiscan Empire didn't just decline, it fell off. The rest of the world, who had mostly looked askance at Fisco and not invited them to any of their parties, collectively breathed a sigh of apathy and got back to killing each other.

Within Fisco, with the last remaining cropland now constantly in danger of inundation, the maintenance of the dikes became a matter of survival. Of course, there were a lot more people around than were actually needed to maintain the dikes, or produce the food, but Fisco had pretty much lost any access to metals or woods or anything that couldn't be made out of hemp. In short, lots of people, not much to work with. So lots of people made comfy-if-baggy-looking clothes and rope ('cause that's what you do with hemp, right?), a few people farmed, a few fished, and everyone else "got involved" with maintaining the dikes.

Over the next few millenia, Fisco became the first (and, hopefully, only) nation to develop a purely bureaucratic government. 90% of the citizenry are part of the government, and the rest get subsidies and a strict regulatory framework. Everyone is heavily taxed, and heavily subsidized.

Hey, it works for the inhabitants. (Of course, they have lots of hemp.) So far, no foreigners have been able to believe that it actually works, and always demand to know what the trick is.

In fact, foreigners forgot about Fisco entirely for thousands of years, until some sailors from Quirm landed there by sailing into a funny-smelling cloud and forgetting where they were going for a week or so. Well, Quirmites being what they are, they immediately declared the existance of Fisco a Secret(tm), set up a trading post, and began a brisk business back in Quirm selling oddly-colored (try-dyed) clothes and "power tobacko".

While this was going on, Oso was born, to Mr. & Mrs. So. (Fiscan law dictates that the child be named by the mother immediately after birth, giving rise to lots of children named "Oh", "OhGod", "Hrrrrngh", and "IHateYouYouDidThisToMe".) Mr. So was a level five-elephant-gramophone bureaucrat in the Ministry of Finger Plugging, which performed tax rebating, and Mrs. So was a Class D Solvent administrator in the Department of Department Naming. Oso was right away put in the post-natal single-entry bookkeeping class, the first step into the life of a Fiscan bureaucrat.

However, by his later teens, it was becoming obvious that Oso was having difficulty with the life of paperwork and regulation. Although he recieved excellent marks in all his classes, and high praise from his superiors at the Sorting Service (Fruit Levels), he had been caught using paper for non-governmental purposes and, worse, engaging in Discouraged Avenues of Thought. Also he was too large to fit in the Fiscan Offical Desk, which was the second home of any Fiscan bureaucrat. So he felt a bit constrained (in more ways than one), and was considering the possibility of doing something else (see "Discouraged Avenues of Thought", above.)

At the same time, Ankh-Morpork had finally decided that they were tired of Quirm having a rather bleary-eyed monopoly on "power tobacko", and sent a vessel to find the mythical land of Fisco. Long story short, it did, and if ever there was a clash of cultures... To a Fiscan, Rules were Rules. To an Anhkan (or whatever), Rules were, well, mostly hypothetical, and if they did turn up it was to justify things that happened to you after you were caught.

Let's just say that the new visitors did not Behave Themselves.

However, they did reveal to Oso that there was an alternative to growing up sorting, filing, stamping, and then throwing it away in triplicate. Plus, as it turned out, Oso was rather good at hitting things. So when the ship from Ankh-Morpork was rather hastily bid farewell, and emergency sessions of various committees were convened to pass Rules against them ever coming back, Oso stowed away in their hold.

Since the hold was, at that point, filled with "power tobacko", no one got far enough into it to find him until the ship had returned to Ankh-Morpork.

Oso hired himself out as a mercenary (after discovering that, in this case, exceeding the regulation size was a big plus). Over the course of a decade, he worked for a number of different mercenary companies, with the pattern in each case being the same:

1) Oso is hired
2) Some fighting
3) The Captain of the company discovers Oso can not only read, he can do figures, and makes him paymaster
4) The company is hired by someone else, does some fighting
5) Their employer discovers that the contract they signed has lots of small print about "expenses", and now has a group of scary mercenaries demanding money they do, technically, have a right to
6) Repeat steps 4 & 5 several times
7) The captain retires young and rich, and Oso goes looking for another job

Needless to say, after a few iterations Oso had little trouble finding a job. But since he had left Fisco to get away from That Sort of Thing, he goes looking for a place where he can avoid paperwork. A place where, no matter how much money might be directed at it, it would be frittered away. A place where the Rules only apply if they catch you. A place where you only need to sign one set of papers, ever, and then can hit people pretty much whenever you want.

A place like the Guard.

- Sun Ra (aka Oso)

Columns by Sun Ra