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The King’s Homeless Veterans and the Magic Box (A Fairy Tale)

Chapter 1

Once upon a time a King said to his court:

“A soldier who served in our Kingdom’s wars should not sleep in the street.

Let us eliminate veteran homelessness from all our realm.”

And all of the court, and all of his people—including his Right Hand Men who extol military service and his Left Hand Men who wail about the injustice of poverty—joined hands and shouted “Yes! Yes!”

So they went out into the world to carry out their ambitious plan. And behold, there was a Viceroy of Houses who knew the secrets of is-homeless. But alas, it was a different viceroy, the Viceroy of Veterans, who knew the secrets of is-a-veteran.

So the King appointed a mediator to get the two viceroys to share their secrets.

“If you merge your precious secrets together, we can figure out who is a homeless veteran!” the mediator suggested bravely.

And brazenly added:

“If we share data really fast, we can send veterans directly to all of the new homes that both Viceroys have established. And we can help the King figure out if he is reaching his goal. Otherwise how would he know?”

“By our troth!” the Viceroys shouted. “Let it be so!” And they issued a joint declaration.

Chapter 2

But not everyone was so eager to implement the plan.

There were many landed interests among the minor lords, knights and vassals.

The jealous privacy lords said: “The decrees of the old King are still in force. They are for the people’s own good. SHARING IS NOT ALLOWED!”

The timid knights of security said: “I must first inspect the ramparts around the other Viceroy’s castles and interview all of their soldiers before revealing our secrets. For traitors and scoundrels lurk everywhere. And each worker must possess a master token and provide the secret codes.”

The miserly masters of the coin, the procurement officers, said: “How much does it cost? Who shall pay? Are we to share our treasure as well as our secrets?”

The legions of faceless vassals asked: “Have all of the required scrolls and parchments been fully rendered? Have they been duly copied by the scribes, reviewed by masters of the chronicles, and disseminated by the messengers? Do they have the proper seals and counter-seals?

The beleaguered master builders chanted in chorus, “It must wait until after the next three release cycles. And these cycles are long, indeed. Yea, each cycle is longer than the seasons, with more phases than the moon.”

And they all put many traps in the mediator’s way.

Meanwhile the homeless veterans groaned, oblivious to the machinations within the court.

Chapter 3

The mediator became discouraged. He had entered the King’s service to help such needy souls. But the King’s other servants had countervailing instructions.

Yet he could not turn back—not if he ever wanted future wages in the Kingdom. He too, he realized, was a faceless court servant bearing a contract that he must conclude.

So he labored on. Guided by his heart, but prodded by the copper coins, he navigated the pitfalls.

He and his hired minions began digging the narrowest of secure tunnels between the Viceroys’ two lands. The tunnel was too small for a person, but could carry a whisper, which could bear a secret.

And soon, one day—not too far away they say—

(It cannot begin before the leaves begin to fall, but must be complete before the first flowers bloom, the King demands!)

—when the secret whispers from both fiefdoms meet, the mediator will guide them to the magic box, the legendary probabilistic identity matching algorithm.

The box will be hidden behind multiple Walls of Fire. The mediator shall construct a hidden Portal that allows the whispers to pass through the flames. The whispers will be encoded with a secret cipher and placed inside an envelope. It shall be formed to resemble the bars of soap that only the nobles use. On the other side of the Portal, the soap shall be washed away and the cleansed secrets will be placed in the magic box.

And in that magic box the two distant whispers will join to become a voice. Each whisper will learn that it was just a faint echo of a larger whole. And each voice will say:  “I am a person! I am one of the homeless veterans of whom you spoke! Help me!” And the voices will multiply, and shout in unison:  “Help us! Help us!”

And if the King has not been pushed off a fiscal cliff, or sequestered in a dungeon by the rival houses, he will help them.

And they will find homes. And education. And jobs. And balm for their wounds and comfort for their souls. And all of the beneficent goodness they deserve for having volunteered for the King’s wars. And the wars of the previous Kings as well.

And in that day, seemingly so far away, the itinerant mediator will move on to other missions.

But on his way, he will reach into his satchel for one of his hard-earned coins, and toss it to the first homeless veteran he meets. For he knows that all of the power of the magic box cannot instantly conjure the soup to fill the poor man’s cup before that night’s hard rest.

The end.

Brian Sokol

Note:  This fairy tale is inspired by a real project. Details may become another post in the future. The true story is still at the beginning of Chapter 3.

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