The Curious Tale Home

Empire on Ice #45: The (Motor)Ways of the Empire

This week! Why are the traffic jams so bad in Joshalonia, when Emperor Josh had promised to stop treating motorists like statistics?

[We begin with music.]

[The camera opens with a series of artistic shots from fixed camera angles, one cutting to the next. Collectively in these shots we see the Metropolitan Imperial Expressway, the largest freeway in the city. The freeway is completely jammed in both directions. The weather is cloudy, with gentle raindrops falling lightly. These visuals have no sound; the only sound comes from the music.]

[The first camera angle is from high above, encompassing hundreds of cars, sitting there like a frozen metal river. The second camera angle is on a freeway onramp, also jammed, looking down onto a jammed section of the freeway itself. The third camera angle is of a dripping wet marigold blooming off the shoulder of the freeway, swaying gently in an unheard breeze, while the cars and trucks sit there like statues, filling up the freeways. The fourth camera angle is from a boulevard overpassing, looking down on the freeway at dozens of stationary hoods and windshields, with wipers going at different speeds.]

[The fifth camera angle shows us inside a car, on an extreme close-up of a steering wheel, with a pair of hands resting upon it. The sixth camera angle shows us inside the same car, on an extreme close-up of the driver's mouth, lips pursed, contorting into a grim frown. The seventh camera angle shows a close-up of the left rear of the car, with the brake lights on as it sits motionless. The eighth camera angle shows us an extreme close-up of the speedometer, which reads zero.]

[The ninth camera angle shows us the wide view of the inside of a car, from the perspective of the rear-view mirror. Grieve Black is in the driver's seat, though he could hardly be said to be driving. His face is calm, but frowning. Grave black is in the passenger's seat. He looks more perplexed than upset, and is looking around quizzically while Grieve stares stonily ahead, unmoving.]

[The music continues playing as they talk.]

Grave: It looks like another traffic jam, today.


Grave: Or, rather, the same one, continuing today.


Grave: Sometimes it's hard to remember all the way back, to when we first got on this freeway.

[As they continue talking, the camera resumes its artistic shots of the traffic jam, some of the details of which I leave for you to imagine.]

Grave: We were younger then.

[Cut to next angle.]

Grave: Proud. Unbowed by the pathos of life.

[Cut to next angle.]

Grave: But I've forgotten what that feels like, anymore.

[Cut to the next angel, which shows a piece of waterlogged litter blowing along the shoulder.]

Grave: Now our food supplies run low. It's been weeks since the last airdrop.

[Cut to next angle, which includes trees along the shoulder of the freeway, swaying in the wind and dripping water.]

Grave: Spring has turned to summer.

[Cut to a wedding on the side of the freeway. The bridesmaids and groomsmen hold umbrellas over the lucky couple.]

Grave: Human drives don't die; people find a way.

[Cut back to the shot of the marigold, from which a bee gracefully crawls out.]

Grave: And, somewhere…I can smell the flowers.

[Cut to a close up of Grave's face.]

Grave: But I can't see them.

[Cut to a wide view of the city, centered on the freeway. Most of the city is dark and stormy, but a part in the clouds causes a ray of sunlight to shine down on part of the freeway, and the metal and glass from the vehicles gleam in the sunlight.]

Grave: And I wonder…did the world go wrong somewhere? Or was it me?

[The camera returns to the windshield rear-view mirror view of Grieve and Grave.]

Grave: Do you suppose we'll die here someday, Brother?

Grave: Brother?

Grieve: This. God. Damn. Traffic.

Grave: We can blame the traffic…but…aren't we the traffic too?

Grieve: I don't understand how it's so bad. The Empire's new traffic control system promised free and open roads for everyone. No more bureaucracy, no more dehumanizing policies of treating us all like units in a database. We were promised that the very highest levels of government would respect the personal needs of every individual motorist, and treat us like individuals. Yet here we are.

Grave: Brother?

Grieve: I don't understand what happened.

* * *

[The music continues.]

[The camera cuts to Josh's office. Josh is at his desk, writing a letter. He has his tongue stuck out between his teeth as his ornate fountain pen flows in elegant cursive script on a fine stationery.]

[Cut to an extreme close-up of the letter itself. We can see what it says, and we hear a voiceover from Josh himself:]

June 26, 2015

Dearest Phillip,

Summer is upon us at last, the Solstice come and gone like the bloom of the desert willow. May this new season find you hale and headstrong as ever, as you proceed to the grocery store.

No doubt you have formed your list of purchases with customary ambition, and I hope nothing less than for you steer your shopping cart to those items in glory, one day, taking with you my most ardent felicitations for a bon appétit.

I hereby grant you my personal authority to proceed forward one block, to the intersection of Newton and 19th, where you will stop for cross-traffic and await my next instruction. It is not the shortest route, of course, but I know you love the geese on Lake Mesmeria, and so I've taken the liberty of routing you along Lakeview Way.

As for what you plan to do with the lime juice and garlic that you mentioned in your most recent correspondence, I shan't presume to know your intention, dear Phillip, but I do relish imagining it.

May the Ways of the Empire ever be your companion and your guide. In the best spirit of contemporary motoring, and under the auspices of the Imperial Personalized Traffic Control System, I am

Yours, estimably,

Joshua P. Fredman, Esq.
Sinistral and Great Lord of the J
Emperor of the Sovereign Empire of Greater Joshalonia

Josh: Resh! If you please.

[Arderesh Valeran appears.]

Josh: Another Traffic Control letter for the outbox.

Arderesh: That's seventeen letters today, Your Majesty. Very good!

Josh: It's so much better this way, meeting the transportation needs of my subjects personally, as human beings, and not as statistics. I feel like I've connected with my people on a meaningful level—some of them for the first time ever.

Arderesh: Yes sir!

[Arderesh turns to leave with the mail, then pauses, uncertainly.]

Arderesh: Um…how shall I deliver these, sir?

Josh: Just put them in a mailbox.

Arderesh: Well, I mean, Phillip Hayward and all these other people are out on the roads.

Josh: It's no problem. They can read their mail when they get home.

O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!