A Fable: A Labor of Moles

(A very dark hollow space with tunnels running into it. The hollow space and the tunnels are deep enough in the ground that moles can survive the winter cold. Moles are usually solitary creatures, but unknown to science these particular moles meet once a year to take stock of their current situation, hear from their leaders, and peer into their always dim future.)

Leader: (There is the sound of scurrying and rustling.) Silence!  (The cavern turns quiet) I know you don’t want to be here and that you especially don’t like whoever gets us together (there is a rustling sound from the audience), but this year particularly I have news we need to hear from our Council of Oracles, the Supreme Diggers. (A fight breaks out between two of the male moles. There is loud, very high pitched screeching.) Dammit, every year this happens!  Guards, separate those two and toss them out!  (The guards do as they are told.)

As I was trying to say, we have word from the chief of the Supreme Diggers, the lowest of the lows, the bottom of the bottoms, who has a report concerning that disgusting place, the Overworld.  He and the Council have been digging around, willing to get their claws dirty, and they have disturbing news.

The Chief Oracle:  Thank you, Leader, who next to Low Mole Himself is the basest of the base, the nethermost of the nether. As you know, our job is to dig, down and around to the North, South, East, and West, covering the half sphere where civilized life occurs, checking the dirt for clues about our present status and about future threats or possibilities.  From the softness of dirt we predicted the great collapse in the Year of Mole 374,919 and we warned of threats from migrating moles when the soil here was very dry. Those migrations led to World Mole War 818 and our eventual triumph.  We are not perfect–we missed the flood of 395,414–but our record is pretty good. We know that where there’s dirt, there’s data, and data is dirt that pays. We love to create piles of dirt, and we love to probe those piles: that is our mission and we accomplish it with pride.

As you know, we don’t look up when we do our work.  We have a motto: looking up is a sign of weakness. When we see a fellow mole looking up we bat him with our paws and give him a nip in the ass.  We track the number of times one of our members looks up and after several warnings a member will be expelled and sent to work on distant tunnels in a really cold climate where the moles speak an incomprehensible language.  Years of observation and our latest theory conclude that looking up is a waste of time.  Yes there is sometimes a hazy light up there, but light is not our friend.  We see it but dimly. We cannot taste it, smell it, touch it, hear it, dig it, or eat it.  It is too hazy to be measured.  It is no use to us.  There are creatures that live there and some come our way for us to eat, but we concluded long ago they are all barbaric and uncivilized.  We also concluded that nothing meaningful can be said of the light except that it appears to be there. Where it came from and what it consists of are not useful tunnels to dig.  Maybe it is an inferior form of dirt.  Maybe it is an illusion created by our nervous system when we are under stress, which we usually are when we look up or (Low Mole forbid!) even go up.  We are trained not to speculate.  Even the word “speculate” is a foreign word.  We prefer our own “forage” or “burrow.”

Now it turns out one of our own—it pains me to say this—one of our own has claimed that not only is the light real, but that there may be other lights beyond that light and that the Up may just keep going up, unlike the Down, which we have proved does have a bottom, the ground of all ground, the base of all being, where the dirt stops and the stone stops our digging.  This traitor—he is no longer with us—has even suggested we need to start looking up and maybe even organize an expedition to explore the Up.  Can you imagine?  (The sound of rustling fills the cavern.) We know by definition the Up cannot be explored and even if it could be, it is not safe.  Dirt is safe and knowable; undirt is not.  So what have we done?  We have turned to our Leader for an answer and he has, as he always does, dug into this matter, clawed away at it, and come to a conclusion.

Leader:  Thank you. Henceforth all tunnels leading Up are to be strictly patrolled.  Only those with permits issued by me are to be allowed in them and then only for the purpose of finding food, particularly food for me and the Council.  We are all too old and wise to hunt for food ourselves. The word “light”will be stricken from our vocabulary and be replaced for the few occasions when it’s needed by “undark.” Anyone who wishes to explore the UP can do so, but they will not be allowed to return to us, to their home soil, to the warmth and comfort of real dirt. I know years ago we used to discuss these matters and vote, but as you know the Council has done study after study conclusively demonstrating that groveling is far more effective and certainly far more efficient than other ways of making decisions.  So now please spontaneously grovel your assent to my decision.

(At this the moles get on their bellies and wiggle forward. Their lowering themselves to their bellies is hard to discern since they are so low to the ground anyway.  When they get to the leader they stand on all four legs and a few use their paws to lift the Leader on the top of the crowd. With a general rustling and an occasional unbearable high-pitched screech, they carry him around the meeting space.)


A Fable: A Labor of Moles

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