A Tall Ship Tale #66: I Ching For A Change

Paul continues.

A slight course correction effected the H.M.S. Legume’s materialization in the Yellow River near Changan early in the first century. The chronomotor’s year-dial quivered at 23 AD. “I hope this is right,” Professor Peabody grumbled, thumping it soundly with a hairy hand.

“What’s the problem? Any time during the Hsin dynasty will do,” the First Mate reassured him.

“That’s just the trouble,” Peabody explained. “Wang Mang’s Confucian-ocracy was not very successful. His Hsin dynasty lasted for only fourteen years!”

“We’d better take a look.” They disembarked and entered the capital. As they drew near a public square, a silk-robed herald and his attendants arrived. He unrolled a huge purple scroll lettered in gold leaf. The gathering crowd murmured angrily as he read it aloud:

“From now on, all land belongs to the nation, all slaves are private possessions, and neither land nor slaves are subject to trade. The landless will receive land from the government in accordance with the law. Those who dare to criticize this system will be exiled to the frontier where they will serve as defenders against the monstrous barbarians!”*

Peabody touched the First Mate’s arm and indicated a grimly silent group of men gathered in a nearby alley, painting each other’s eyebrows. “To the palace — and hurry!”

“Who were those guys?” the First Mate wondered as they approached the emperor’s palace.

“The Red Eyebrows — rebels against the Hsin government. They color their faces so they will not mistake each other for loyalist soldiers.”

Emperor Wang Mang agreed to see them; apparently he was glad of the distraction. They knew at once that he was a wise man, because he was wearing sage dressing. “We are from the future, but we can’t tell anybody this because it might change history,” the First Mate explained. “We’ve come to stop the Brotherhood from changing Chinese history. But we aren’t sure what they plan to do, so we need some advice. Suppose you had the use of a time machine and wanted to prevent the development of Taoism; how would you go about it?”

The Emperor stroked his beard thoughtfully. “Legend says Lao-tzu founded Taoism in the 6th century BC. As a Taoist, he naturally was opposed to any action, including that of founding a philosophy. But a warden in a mountain pass gave him shelter, so as payment he wrote a book — the Book of Taoist Virtue. Then he disappeared into the west and was never heard of again. But his book became the foundation of Taoism. So I would go to that warden, carry the book away and burn it!” Suddenly a fierce group of Red Eyebrows burst into the audience chamber. The emperor and his attendants were quickly seized.

The rebel leader inspected the Legume’s officers curiously, and bade that they be released. “I see that you are visitors here, so we will not hold you by force. But we ask you to join us against the land-thieving Hsins. Better red than dead!” he declared, holding out a pot of eyebrow-coloring.

“We sympathize, but we really mustn’t get involved,” the First Mate apologized. “You see, we have this Prime Directive…”

But the rebel leader would have none of this. He thrust a dripping brush into the sailor’s hand and shouted…

“Repaint — and Hsin no more!”

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