A Tall Ship Tale #77: Confucian to Our Enemies

Another entry from Paul DeAnguera.

The time-traveling sailors were dismayed to be so royally welcomed by Wang Mang, for this made their mission to repair history all the more disagreeable. Conversation petered out and they nursed their cold tea miserably. Finally the First Mate decided he had to come out with it.

“During our last visit I mentioned that we are visitors from the future,” he reminded the Emperor.

Wang Mang smiled and nodded. “So you did! But that was in a parallel time-track, so I had forgotten it.”

“Here’s our problem,” the officer explained. “In that parallel time-track, you were deposed today by Red Eyebrow rebels because you were a Confucian. You were busily engaged in improving and reforming every aspect of your countrymen’s lives, and so I suppose that is why they got rid of you. But in this time-track, thanks to a slight mishap in the sixth century BC, you are a Taoist. You avoid doing anything that would disturb life’s natural tranquillity, and so your countrymen are not only content with your non-rule, they are scarcely even aware of it. That’s why nobody is breaking down the doors of your throne room to depose you.”

The emperor nodded with satisfaction.

“That’s bad,” Professor Peabody pointed out; the emperor paused and frowned. “If the Hsin dynasty doesn’t fall today, history will never recover!”

“What happened to me when I was deposed? Did they put me out to pasture?”

“In a sense,” Captain Quid riposted. “You were put to the sward.”

“But that won’t be necessary here,” the First Mate pointed out. “All you need to do is to disappear. In fact, you can come with us if you like.”

“Why would I want to do that? Will the gods be displeased if history is changed?” At once a darkness fell over the land and there was a crash of thunder. “AYE, YE BLIGHTERS! MUCKIN’ ABOUT MY WORK BEFORE IT’S HALF DRY!” bellowed a great voice from the heavens.

“I’d be delighted,” Wang Mang assured them. They proceeded to the H.M.S. Legume’s berth on the Yellow River. As the ship’s company had never been joined by such a distinguished volunteer before, they insisted on giving him a full tour of the frigate — from the Monica Lewinsky figurehead embracing the bowsprit to the pornographic stained-glass windows in the Captain’s great cabin under the stern. Beyond the gun deck they came to the first of a series of lounges, a recent innovation for the improvement of crew morale.

“This lounge has been fitted with windows so off-duty crew members can follow the Legume’s pursuit of enemy ships,” the First Mate explained. “The chase lounge.”

“And this lounge is especially designed for the enjoyment of dairy products,” Quid pointed out. “The cheese lounge.”

“I see,” noted the former emperor. “But, tell me, what is the purpose of this empty room next door?”

“Why, it’s reserved for virgins, and so we have little use for it really,” the First Mate explained. “The ch…”

“Never mind that!” Peabody interrupted. “What’s our next port of call?”

“Hsin-chu, in Taiwan” the Captain said. “It’s a major grain transshipment point; a cereal port. I got a wonderful deal on vinyl recordings by a 60’s rock and roll band which I plan to sell there.”

“But do you think there’ll be a market in a Chinese community for music that’s in English?”

“That’s why it’s such a wonderful deal. This rock and roll group never sings; they just play instrumentals. Actually, the music isn’t that good. But adolescents used to buy one album after another just the same, because the covers folded out and had pictures of swimsuit models inside.”

Wang Mang frowned. “Taiwan has a very strict moral code. You’re in real danger of corporal punishment if they catch you selling randy pictures there.”

While Quid hesitated; the First Mate joined the argument. “You should listen to him, sir,” he advised…

“…Nothing Ventured, nothing caned!”

John Vinson said, “Good one! But that chaste lounge is going to defeat its own purpose, I fear….”

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