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once upon a time, a dragon tyrannized the kingdom. covered with thick black scales, its eyes glowed with hate ,… … and from its terrible jaws flowed evil-smelling slime. some tried to fight the dragon … … priests and magicians called down curses to no avail. warriors, armed with the best weapons, attacked, only to be incinerated. the dragon’s claws, jaws, and fire were so effective, … … its scaly armor so hard, as to make it invincible. the dragon demanded from humankind a tribute: …

… ten thousand men and women, randomly chosen, … … to be delivered every evening to the foot of the mountain to be eaten. the king and the kingdom, their weapons useless, … … had no choice but to pay the grisly tribute, …. … to suffer the misery, to feed the insatiable hunger. and humans, ever adaptable, came to accept the dragon-tyrant as a fact of life; … … knowing, even embracing, that everyone’s final moments would be in its maw. how could the world be otherwise? the kingdom began to teach its children that the dragon had its place …

… in the natural order and, the very meaning of being human to end up … … in the dragon’s stomach, their shorter lives motivating them to lead good lives. and the dragon was helping the kingdom by keeping the population … … from growing too fast. learning this, attacks on the dragon ceased. but the kingdom still grew, slowly, and with it so did the dragon, … … becoming as big as the mountain on which it lived, its appetite increasing. the logistics of collecting and transporting so many every day… … to the mountain came to occupy the king’s mind more than the deaths and the dragon itself.

the king had to hire registrars to keep track of who would be sent. there were people-collectors dispatched to fetch the designated victims. there were clerks who administered the pensions to be paid to decimated families. and there were comforters who would travel with the doomed … … on their way to the dragon, trying to ease the anguish. and there were dragonologists who studied how these logistic processes could be made more efficient. steam engines were invented and a railway constructed leading to the dragon’s abode. trains arrived at the mountain terminal crammed with people and return empty. some dragonologists also studied the dragon’s behavior and collected samples …

… its shed scales, the slime, the excrement speckled with fragments of human bone. the more the beast was understood, the more its invincibility confirmed. but. . . humanity is a curious species. every once in a while, someone gets a good idea. others copy the idea, adding to it their own improvements. over time, many wondrous tools and systems are developed. some of these tools make it easier to generate new ideas. thus, the great wheel of invention, … … which in the older ages turned imperceptibly slow, …

… began to accelerate and humans did what would have seemed magic before, … … communicating instantly across great distance, building machines that could fly, … and many other astonishing things. a few dragonologists argued it might be time argued for a new attack … … one had invented a material so sharp it could pierce a dragon’s scale. it would not be easy but if a huge projectile could be made out of this material … … and launched with sufficient force and sufficient precision it might penetrate the dragon’s armor. however, it would be difficult and expensive and time-consuming to do. the dragonologists explained their proposal to anyone who would listen.

but the people were skeptical; they had been taught the dragon-tyrant was invincible and the sacrifices it demanded a fact of life. yet when they learnt about the new material and the idea for a projectile, many became intrigued. when the king read about the plans, he decided to hold an open hearing … … it took place on the last and darkest day of the year, in the largest hall of the royal castle. people packed in to every last seat and crowded the aisles. the king's advisor spoke first: telling the people it was best they accept the inevitability of the dragon… … and the dragon-administration department provided many jobs … … that would be lost were the dragon slaughtered and, in any case, … … the kingdom's coffers were empty after building the new railway.

next the leading dragonologist explained how the proposed device would work, … … how the requisite amount of new invented material could be manufactured. given the requested amount of funding, it may be possible to complete the work in fifteen to twenty years. with greater funding, maybe twelve. however, there could be no guarantee. last to speak was the king’s advisor for morality: "let us grant" he said "the project is technologically possible, though it hasn’t been proven to me. … … presumably, you think you've got the right not to be chewed up. how willful, how presumptuous, how vain. the shortness of human life is a blessing. getting rid of the dragon, which might seem such a convenient thing to do, would undermine our dignity.

this preoccupation with killing the dragon will deflect us from realizing more fully … … the aspirations to which our lives naturally point, from living well rather than merely staying alive. the nature of the dragon is to eat, and our own nature, my friends, is nobly fulfilled only by getting eaten. the dragon is necessary. the dragon is good." the great hall was silent. then a small child yelled out from the audience: "the dragon is bad!" the child’s parents turned red and hushed, but the child said again: "the dragon is bad -- it kills people... it ate my granny... i want my granny back." the hall was silent again -- then a woman stood: “the dragon killed my parents.”

and man followed and stood: “the dragon killed my wife and my daughter.” more and more people stood -- the simple fact that the dragon killed everyone, the loss of it, the weight of it, crashing over the hall. the way out from under remote, yet maybe possible. the king, looking at the first child to speak, announced: "let us kill the dragon". the next morning, a billion people woke to realize they or those they loved might be sent to the dragon before the projectile launched. whereas before, active support for the anti-dragon cause had been limited, … … it now became the number one priority and concern on everyone’s mind. mass rallies raised money for the projectile project and urged the king to increase support, … … which he did, passing extra appropriations bills and selling his summer castle, announcing:

"i believe that this kingdom should commit itself to achieving the goal, … … before the decade is out, of freeing the world from the ancient scourge of the dragon." thus started a great technological race against time. to make the dragon-killing weapon required solutions to a thousand technical problems, … … each of which required dozens of time-consuming steps and missteps. test-missiles were fired but fell dead to the ground or flew off in the wrong direction. terrible accidents happened. but there was now a seriousness of purpose, and the work continued. but despite almost unlimited funding and round-the-clock work by technicians, the king’s deadline could not be met.

the task was hard. the decade concluded and the dragon still lived — still ate. but the effort was getting closer. a year later the first prototype missile successfully launched. the construction of the final projectile eventually set to complete and launch on new year’s eve, … … twelve years after the project’s inauguration. the last day of the year was cold and overcast, but still and clear — good launch conditions. as the sun set, technicians scuttled around making the final adjustments and checks. the king and his advisors observed from a platform close to the launch pad.

further away, behind a fence, the public assembled to witness the great event. a large clock counted down: ten minutes to go -- the dark slumped profile of the dragon beyond, eating. from the crowd, someone jumped the fence and ran to the platform where the king sat. he arrived, accompanied by security, in a frenzied state, his nose bleeding. he shouted: "the last train! stop the last train!" the young man was a junior clerk in the ministry of transportation. he had discovered that his father was on the last train to the mountain. the king had ordered the trains to continue to the very end, … … fearing any disruption might cause the dragon to stir and the missile to miss.

the young man begged the king to issue a recall-order for the last train, … … due to arrive at the mountain terminal five minutes before time zero. "i cannot do it," said the king, "i cannot take the risk it will alert the dragon“. the clouds above their head let loose the rain. “i am so sorry” the king continued, “had we started but one day earlier your father would not have to die.” looking at the crowd, thinking of all the losses that they and he, had endured. “this project should have been started years earlier than we did. so many need not have been killed by the dragon, had we but awoken from our acceptance of its horror sooner.” the young man's wailing ceased.

the king looked up at the countdown clock: five seconds remaining. four. three. two. one. zero. a ball of fire enveloped the launch pad and the missile shot out. the masses, the king, the low and the high, the young and the old… ... that white flame, shooting into the dark embodied the human spirit, its fear and its hope.

it struck the heart of evil. the silhouette on the horizon tumbled and fell. thousands of voices of joy rose from the masses, joined seconds later by a deafening drawn-out thud from the collapsing monster. after all this time, humanity was at last free from the dragon. the joy cry resolved into a jubilating chant: "long live the king! long live us all!" the royal entourage, huddling in the downpour, accumulated around their monarch. so much had changed in the last hour. the right to an open future had been regained, a primordial fear abolished, and many long-held assumptions overturned.

“what do we do now?" they asked. "we have come a long way. . ." said the king, "yet now we are like children again. the future lies open before us. we shall go and try to do better than we have done in the past, for we have time now… … time to get things right, time to grow up, time to learn from our mistakes. let all the bells in the kingdom ring until midnight, in remembrance of our dead. then after, we will celebrate and begin the process of building a better world. . . for we have time now. [music and crackling sounds]

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