The plan was simple, easy, laughable even; given the complexity of the task. Ten men would be selected. Some would be chosen for their charm and the way that the light from the bars glanced off their teeth when they smiled. Some for their ferocity and for the way that other men looked down and tended to kick at pebbles in the road when they swaggered by; and some more for the music that they played which caused others to forget or forgive. Others would be chosen for their money, others for their perceived position before their peers, and still others for the way that they announced their presence, filling the room as they entered. The final ones would be selected for their ability to influence the minds of others – even of superior men.
These last were a special lot; because their work required a more direct reckoning and the margins for error were less. It was with these last ones that the greatest danger lie. The elders knew this. Men are easily enamored, or intimidated, or goaded on to envy; but the usurpation of the mind – the ultimate prize – was a task not for the faint of heart.
They set about their task.
The reaping did not take long – such men as were required are not hard to find; though choosing between them took an effort. When the reaping was done – from the bars and back alleys, the ivory towers, the chop shops and private clubs of the world – the elders summoned their legionnaires for an audience. The room was Spartan and a bright light shone into the eyes of the men, so they could scarce see the features of those for whom they had been called to sacrifice. But they did not mind; long they had been steeped in the type of glory that the elders offered and they were willing martyrs to the undertaking.
“You have been specially selected, and explained your task” said the elder, dressed all in white and with a finely trimmed beard – though nobody ever saw him. “You have been trained like no others ever before. No expense has been spared and no option ignored.” The men stood silent, instinctively knowing that this was not the time; that the time for words had come and gone and the dawning of the days of action were at last at hand. All doubts had been dismissed under a tsunami of words. “This time,” the elder went on, “this time everything lies on your shoulders. This time we may not fail; for this time is surely our last. The power of our enemies is growing; and soon it will be unassailable. For this reason I entreat you to go forth, make us proud. We are waiting only for your success; to begin our own.”
Slowly the men of mention shuffled out of the room, contemplating their solemn duty; afraid even of the singular burden that was now theirs to bear. They fanned out to begin their work.
The men of the smiles went back to the bars. They were comfortable there, and the spirits gave them confidence. From a barstool they carried out their task, choosing their mark well and debating long into the night – they had been well trained and the arguments came naturally, finding no opponent at the bottom of a bottle.
The ferocious men instead went to the marketplace; the place on the far edge of town where people would gather after work to speak and to listen, to share a word with a friend and to find meaning in the monotony. The hard men would fan out into the crowd, each night selecting a target. They would then stand, in a cement line behind the crowd as they made their presence known. Usually, the mark required only a little time before he found other ways to occupy his evenings. Sometimes, for the most insistent, a rendezvous was prepared and people quickly learned to care more closely for their words.
The men of money – usually old money who couldn’t fathom from whence it came; and position – usually unearned position who took it for a given; and presence – usually unchallenged presence that required no justification; threw parties. They invited their own and shunned those they wished denied. They made the political fortunes of some, destroyed that of others – always randomly and without reason as they created a caste of men at their call – a particular type of man with a particular gleam in his eye that was so easy to recognize, once trained for what to look for.
The last men – the most dangerous ones – did not interact at all. They went from the reaping straight to cloister themselves away from the world. They would not see the evils, the violence, the darkness or the hurt. Those things were for others, and would affect their singular work. They instead opined. They filled pages and tomes; they produced papers and magazines; they wrote articles and treatises. They did not accept challenge, they did not debate, they did not argue. They asserted – creating irrefutable arguments by making argument irrelevant.
Meanwhile, layered atop it all were the silken melodies that gave it all meaning; the drink and the violence and the yearning, all put into perspective and made glorious by the sounds of a generation.
The elders sat back – waiting and watching for the fullness of their moment. They still wait today – because the work is hard and their enemies are strong. But this time they believe they have it; they know that through patience and vigilance they might succeed. Because they see that slowly, very slowly, things have begun to change in the minds of men.