Badger, a large and proud example of his species, supposed he could help himself. He tried. It did not work. He tried again, and again.
He should let it go. He knew he should. Other badgers did not act worried. They pointed out to him that the Leader brought them no harm he could name. They said the fellowship of badgers might re-elect their Leader for another term. They might turn over more of their lives to the Leader, to live for them.
So why couldn’t Badger go along? He shook himself. He ate an earthworm. He asked himself, ‘If I can’t forget how the world is going, can I somehow use my worrying to reach any goals?’
He laughed cynically at his question. He knew his neighbours accepted the New Security their nearly-enough elected Leader promised them. Things and thinking frightened his neighbours, thinking most of all. The Leader relieved them of the need to think. The Leader provided slogans they substituted for thought. Why couldn’t Badger relax and be like them?
Why was he obsessed?
He laid out his thoughts, and found them meagre. So he laid them out again. He found them paltry.
‘As far as talent goes,’ he said, ‘I could be the Leader. Neither of us has the sense to come in out of the reign.’
Then he, a badger who by definition and nature should be biting, felt his conscience bite him. The pain was ferocious. He stood it, because he had to. The pain was horrendous. He withstood it. He was by nature and experience a stoic. His conscience bit him again, harder. Badger rolled in the dirt in front of his sett, and he cried.
Guards noted Badger’s crying. They looked around to learn what else they they could report to the Leader. No one helped Badger. He ran out of tears and went below.
He felt blank, and relieved. And no wiser.
‘It’s the fault of the bagpipes,’ Badger told himself. ‘That music wipes me out. It is the sound of a reason for living, left over even now.’
‘Was it my conscience?’
His obsession resurged. It chafed him for not doing what he should. It berated him with fully-orchestrated, over-the-top remonstrance against his Not Doing Anything.
‘I do not know enough. I have no proof. I must be cautious and well-grounded …’
No good. His conscience held him fast but not kindly. He could not block out knowing what he knew: Bagpipes played less frequently. People sang protest songs less often. More people stopped protesting as Leader’s henchmen dismantled old laws protecting Earth from human greed.
‘I know too little to act,’ thought Badger. ‘I know too much to sleep.’
‘Maybe I am starting at shadows,’ he thought. No one had threatened him. Guards had asked him to join Secure Church. They told him the Leader tolerated bagpipe players if they joined Secure Church. They showed him the Leader’s Executive Orders protecting Secure Church members even if they towelled off oil-downed seabirds. They left him copies of Executive Orders protecting silent Secure Church members who attended no services.
Badger heard something, a far-away baying. It got louder. He remembered that sound. He ran up out of his sett to warn his neighbours. Baiters!
Badger felt strangely relieved. Dogs could not hurt him as much or as long as his conscience and suspicions and fears did. He was the size of a spaniel and twice as strong. He had claws.
‘I am looking forward to fighting, and to dying,’ he said.
Security Dogs and Guards surrounded Badger. The Guards kept the Security Dogs leashed. The Guards shocked him with cattle prods, and shocked him again each time he moved.
Each time they shocked him, he moved.
This went on for some time.
That evening’s Security News showed Badger flinging himself from side to side. Security Dogs in the video were restrained. No Guards were in sight. The video showed colour close-ups of the badger’s teeth with blood on them. His black, swollen tongue. His powerful claws trembling inches from the cameraman. Inches!
The Security News announcer intoned: ‘Not only loud protestors, but also the silent minority can be dangerous. Dangerous to our norms and values. Exercise Lightning unearthed and neutralised one of the dangerous today. The war on nature will be a long one, but we will not quit until we have won.’
As far as watchers could tell, Badger’s conscience no longer troubled him.