Blame it on the Pigeons
Who you callin' a birdbrain?
He was yanked awake by a chorus and a storm. At least that's what his subconscious served up for him. When he opened his eyes -- slowly, for fear of daylight and its effects -- he found himself laying on his side, staring across a dim, dusty, lumpy floor. At the far end, lightly dusted by slatted moonlight, a flutter of pigeons were landing, puffing themselves up with a stiff, formal dignity, looking about pretentiously as if to say they had never done anything so ungainly as actually fly.
Pigeons. That must have been where the storm came from. What a letdown. He much preferred the missing memories that his shredded bit of dream suggested over this filthy floor.
He remembered planning to go to the Carnival, but he couldn't remember whether he had gone. He imagined so. He hoped he had a good time, for all the pain he was in. What a pity he couldn't remember.
A particularly pertinent recollection would have been his reason for being here. He guessed that here was some church tower. There were enough hints: the pigeons, the slatted windows, and a rope dangling from the darkness and sinking through a hole in the encrusted floor near his head. Here he could deal with. How didn't much bother him, either. But why was the serious question. What inebriated streams of consciousness had led him to this place?
Yet his frail mind wasn't ready to tackle a question of such weight for fear of breakage. So thinking was out. He was no longer sleepy, so he felt obligated to do something -- but under the circumstances disobeying the laws of inertia did not seem like a good idea. In fact, he suspected that physical exertion was to be feared even above mental. Yet he had managed to open his eyes without any serious permanent injury -- as long as he had blinked slowly -- so he opted for the only activity left: staring where his head pointed, which was toward the silly critters at the other end of the bell tower, blustering and prancing about as if at an Elizabethan ball.
Sombulus began, "We must decide tonight! The Event is progressing as planned, and the point of no return is upon us. Do we halt The Event or do we do nothing?"
From Bombusterbuss, "I say do nothing. Let The Event occur. There is some risk, as I've shown before, but we have plenty of time to prepare ourselves for the crossing of Their millennium to find shelter for the short duration of the crisis. Afterward, Their menace will be greatly diminished and our evolutionary research will no longer be faced with the impossible burden of time."
Fillibut and Penniloe were terrified of The Event. They echoed each other in a chorus pitched to heights of alarmed fright, though they did their best to keep panic from their arguments, "Their menace will be greatly diminished, you say. How greatly? Your projections show that Their destructiveness will probably not escalate to dangerous levels, but your philosophy's projections have been wrong before. The medieval plagues were projected to evenly distribute Their reduction. But you remember what happened. Entire communities vanished. For the short term, those of us living in those communities prospered -- Their stores were freely open to us. But they were also open to others. The fox. The wolf. The weasel. Where the plague had destroyed Them, the carnivores soon destroyed us. Are the risks suitably minimized this time?"
Phulphertibig was adamantly against The Event as well. "And what of the individual? Their higher societies are breaking down. We agreed to that half a century ago and more. But a side-effect of that breakdown is greater individual influence. None of your philosophies, old or new, has yet managed to adequately codify the individual."
He had never seen pigeons act so strangely before. They were supposed to be mindless, chaos-driven creatures, twitching at everything.
But tonight their prancing about didn't look at all random. They were still twitching, but it all seemed more... uniform. And their cooing -- that heavenly chorus -- seemed quite odd.
Forget it. He was thinking too much. It still hurt.
Strangely enough, their odd strains didn't seem to add to his addlement. He might even be convinced that their voices were soothing, though maybe he was just plain feeling better. No matter. If it meant his hangover would evaporate, he could lay here watching and listening for hours.
Phulphertibig was still droning on. "Their individual has freer access to Their mass-destruction capabilities than they have ever had in the past. If only a single significant bomb or biological agent..."
Idle Feather couldn't stand the Phlutter Beak any longer. He had to interrupt.
"We cannot tolerate the collateral damage to ourselves from even one such act. We recommend stopping The Event." He wasn't quite sure who the we was, but it stopped the incessant fluttering of his compatriot.
Phasogordo, who had worked hard for The Event, squeaked out a frustrated rebuttal, "But this is a chance of a millennium! We will not have Their entire population quaking over a single event again for centuries. We cannot afford to waste such a global trigger!"
Hux cooed back, "Why not? We have many smaller, safer triggers in place. True, we could accomplish much with this one trigger, but there's a chance -- however small, it is still a chance -- that this trigger would result, not in reduction, but in complete elimination."
Fillibut and Penniloe babbled again, losing control over their panic, "Elimination! You hear her? Elimination! That doesn't mean just Them. It also means us!"
He was definitely feeling better now. Although he wasn't supposed to be thinking, his mind must have been doing a bit covertly, because he suddenly had an idea for some fun. It required a little movement, but it was stealthy movement, and he was particularly attuned to perform such at the moment. Since any motion painfully reminded him of the good time he must have had during the Carnival, the slower he moved, the less he hurt. And that kept him slow enough that the pigeons certainly weren't going to notice.
Hux still had the floor. "Many of the controls we have used in the past are still available to us. Why use something untested and drastic when plagues and other diseases have done quite well, despite the opinions of some of us here? Famine and disaster have been equally useful. And we can always find another Luther or Lenin. And while an Attila or a Hitler is no longer safe since Their destructive engines have become so effective in the last few centuries that Their wars now take us with Them, we're still a long way from breeding violence out of Them. We can still use war on a small scale. We've been quite successful on that point even in our own times, in Africa and the Balkans, for instance."
Ufus the Brown pipped in dreamily, "Yes, Luther! We mustn't forget our old friend religion. One of our best controls. It has done wonders to keep Them in check with all the crusades and jihads and pogroms and whatnot. And don't forget these wonderful community halls Their religions have built for us. Yes, let's not forget religion."
He never saw a pigeon in the country, though he imagined they must be there. They had to be much more virtuous than their city cousins. He could respect the noble, hardworking, country folk. He even considered himself charitable enough to go so far as to offer a bit of bread in admiration to such a noble savage.
But their city cousins? They deserved nothing but contempt. Life was too easy in the city, with all the attics and churches and abandoned buildings for them to live in, and with all the garbage heaps for them to live on and all the gullible people that actually fed them.
He took a certain pleasure in harassing every pigeon he encountered -- mitigating circumstances such as Carnival revelries aside. And as for the fools who fed them, they made the pigeons' lives easy beyond reason. They deserved special scorn.
Gavrilliac retorted, "But our controls are weakening! We thought we were breaking down their civilizations, but it's taking so long! They've become so complacent that they have begun to make war, not on themselves, but on us. On us!"
He had a theory about pigeons. Is it pure chance that cities have been good for them? Of course not! They designed the cities, you see. We built them, but it's the pigeons that made us build. We toss out all this garbage, but it's the pigeons that make us wasteful. We do all the work, and the pigeons live off our leavings. Their dumber-than-a-rock image is all just an act.
Why haven't we chased them out of the cities? We got rid of the rats, didn't we? (He didn't really know for sure, but he couldn't imagine a modern city with such an archaic pestilence as rats.) No sensible city allows livestock within its limits, does it? No tigers or wolves or bears. Then why do we allow pigeons? Simple. Because we don't have any say in the matter. It's the other way around. Pigeons allow us.
By this time, Peckelscot was wholly disgusted. "Enough of this nonsense! We're approaching a crisis and we have an opportunity to forestall this crisis. From the beginning we bred Them to be prolific, and we induced cultural constraints to enforce that breeding. They died off so easily during most of Their existence that we had no choice. But now They are exceeding Their bounds, and They will continue to do so. In the last few centuries we have begun a new breeding program, giving Them reasons other than procreation to exist. This program is finally beginning to take hold in Their more advanced countries, and the corresponding societal pressures are becoming mainstay -- women's rights, environmental consciousness, and the like. But things like this take time, and we have had almost no success at all with most of Their populations. It will take centuries -- centuries we do not have. If gone unchecked, They will choke this world, and us with it, in a matter of decades, a century or two at the outside."
Bombusterbuss finally heard someone he could coo with. "Yes! Their populations are ballooning. They're living longer. They are outpacing our controls. Do you know how long some analysts give until all our controls are useless? Two or three lifetimes. That's all! We don't even have the two centuries that my esteemed colleague optimistically opines. We must take drastic action, despite the risks." He unconsciously lifted a claw and flexed it. "We must weaken Them now!"
If his theory were correct, then perhaps this very gaggle -- no, that was geese; what's a flock of pigeons? a clutch? a coop? make it a belfry -- perhaps this belfry is a conclave of their leaders. He had never seen pigeons act as strangely as these. Perhaps the fate of the world lay in the hands, er, beaks, of this bedraggled toss of feathers.
Someone pondered aloud wistfully, "If we only had another millennium without the risk of Their chaos, another millennium to breed Them to our liking, there we might find Utopia."
His theory was grand for all its possibilities. But he really didn't believe in it. Pigeons were just stupid, brainless birds.
Sombulus quietly interceded, and a hush swept through the room, "We did not come here to argue. We've all heard each other before. We came here to vote. All in favor of letting The Event run its cour..."
He was finally in position. For the love of a lark he threw his agonies to the wind and yanked the rope, and the pigeons were scattered in a frenzy by the spirited bells.
Russell Butek (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a nomadic software type who can't decide where he really wants to live. He grew up in the Cold White North of Wisconsin and got his education there, and has lived on the east coast, west coast, and places in between, along with a brief stint in Munich -- a city, like all of Europe, firmly in the grip of the pigeons. He currently lives in Austin, Texas.
InterText stories written by Russell Butek: "The Web" (v6n6), "Grendel" (v8n5), "Blame it on the Pigeons" (v9n6).
InterText Copyright © 1991-2000 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 9, Number 6 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1999 Russell Butek.