The Country/The Country

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'You Are a Bee. It's the Hive That Matters'

What ‘chambers’ were these?

The bodyguard entered the room without a word, and Keel walked toward him so that their departure from the presence of Pig and, perhaps, all the life he has so far known, would appear -- if only in his own mind -- as a voluntary action on his part. And not a forcible removal, as if dragged into custody by one of Pig’s stolid, oversized, speechless campaign-soldiers.

The guard gave an investigatory glance but decided there was no need to lay hands on him, merely gesturing toward the door. Keel continued through it and the escort walked behind him, offering muttered instructions when they reached a stairwell.

Outside they found a car waiting, the inevitable black wagon.

The ‘Chambers’ turned out to be one of the frankly utilitarian lodgings by the highroad that most residents referred to as Platow Place (or simply ‘the Place’), though the new owners re-christened it Monro Chambers, so as to give the banal habitation a still more local name.

They entered a lobby with a pronounced attitude of vacancy about it, emphasized by the absence of human presence behind the registration desk, and Keel’s minder led him to an elevator, all aspects of the formal booking-in procedure apparently now in abeyance, that took them up to the third floor and down a quiet corridor to a room the guard’s beefy hand opened

with a key card.

They encountered no one along the way, but the Pegasso campaign’s ‘Chambers’ did not have the atmosphere of an empty building. It had the atmosphere of a place of waiting, one of the anterooms in purgatory, perhaps, where ears listened intently to the silence with the goal of hearing some clue as to what would likely happen to them next.

Keel knew how the unseen hearts beat in their chests.

Would he find himself tied to a pole on the morrow? Or swinging from a high branch in the city common?

The guard gestured and Keel stepped through the doorway into the room.

So this was prison. A bland accommodation room. Wider bed than he had at home. A dresser, a chair. A door that undoubtedly led to the plumbing: fresh water, a basin, a stool, a private box in which to stand beneath a soothing, temperature-controlled rain-of-renewal. Also, in the main room, a TV. No one worried any more about what you could learn from TV (not even your captors), because in fact there was no longer anything of value on it. Voting Days were clearly over, whether or not the Sacred Commission recognized this fact.

Just ask the people of Monro, Keel proposed (addressing in his mind some ideal audience -- the Commission?). Who is the new archon of the Commonhope of UZ? The leader? The head of government?

The Leading Candidate had already inaugurated his rule, at least in this city, and over its air waves. Did the same conditions apply in the other districts where Voting Days have long been over and Karol Pegasso ushered triumphantly from them as the Leading Candidate? Keel did not know. Judging by what he had seen, and had not seen, on local TV, or read in the nooz-sheets arriving each morning in the markets about the state of affairs in his own community, he had no reason to assume that the populations of all the other districts visited, invested, by the Pig Campaign had not received the same treatment.

Had the campaign left behind little private armies of occupation, displacing and controlling local authorities, or persuaded the uniformed services to do their bidding now that Pig’s accession to power was a sure thing -- as it had been all along, since the very first Voting Days, had it not? While Pig and the vanguard, some inner circle of advisors no doubt accompanied by posses of large bodies, rolled on to the next target city in the next Voting district. Setting up camp in the local corridors of power, stringing up or ‘shaming’ a few opponents in acts of exemplary ‘teachable tempora,’ arriving for unscheduled private conversations in the offices of TV networks and city nooz-sheets wherein new understandings could be forged behind closed doors.

How much of the country was already like this?

Whose country was it, anyway? the now detained former teacher of old books asked himself.

When was the last time anyone had seen the image of Kevin O’Rhule on a TV screen? Or the front page of a nooz-sheet? The determination of the exact date of the inauguration of a new leader, a new government, was of course the privilege of the Sacred Commission, though the date had to fall sometime within the Voting year, but perhaps this power was already rendered impotent by the relentless pace of Pig’s campaign.

What if the campaign itself decided to declare its own triumph and appoint an inauguration date for the new regime? Would there be anything left of the old regime, the country of UZ that Keel loved with the unexamined loyalty to familiar things most human creatures maintained – as he loved his grandparents, their old house, his own stacks of books, the streets he walked on, the market where he stared at the nooz-sheets... anything left, that is, able to oppose this unwarranted, or at the very least premature, seizure of the reins of government?

And not only the seizure itself, but the procedures by which this securing of power was undertaken: Did these patently illegal acts not demand an ‘official’ response? Where was the legal ‘government’ of the Commonhope of UZ? Where were its rules, and laws, and courts, the guarantees of its founding documents, its deeply held and sworn to premises? Where was his country?

A quite monotonous, relentless though scarcely audible percussive rhythm began to intrude on his consciousness. He shoved his thoughts aside; listened.

Laughed bleakly: water, a drip. Somewhere in the chambers; his, or somewhere else’s.

The cursory knock on the door was followed by its smooth opening as the minder stepped back into the room. He had gone to Keel’s house, availing himself of the key Keel provided him, to gather up the few necessary (or desirable) things the new inmate had requested. Some more clothes; slippers, pajamas, toothbrush, and similar personal items. Also a few books, cited by title and placement within the house’s exact geography; a notebook and some pens.

When the man, appearing ever more morose and detached as the day went on, had dropped his load of needful items on the bed, Keel remembered the necessary thing he had utterly neglected.

“Are you the one,” he asked, “who will be feeding the dog? Twice a day, morning and late afternoon.” A second later he added, “And walk her, of course.”

The silent man stared as if Keel had grown floppy ears and barked.

“She was there, of course. Survy.” No reply. “Wasn’t she?” he asked. “You saw her?”

The man frowned, but still refused to resort to verbal communication.

“You can’t leave a dog to go hungry.” He heard the tint of shock and moral outrage in his own voice.

His minder, the less voluble of the two campaign soldiers that has been sent that morning to extract them from the house, sighed irritably and looked away.

“Either go to my house to feed her. Or bring here so I can do it.”

“No pets allowed.”

The words glumly offered, as if their speaker suspected they would not suffice.

Had the fellow worked in the hospitality industry? Keel wondered. It was the sort of thing spoken from behind the desk of anonymous single-night lodges, where they asked you to pay in advance.

“Maybe,” he said, as blandly as he could manage, “the management can make an exception. Under the circumstances.”

The minder grimaced, looked away as if found something worthy of deep thought on the room’s bare walls, then frowned at Keel. He extended a palm to take back the house key.

She had seen him coming from a long way away, and all he would bring. The beast. The executioner. The hanged man. The plague. The miasma.

A cloud. There in the morning, each morning when her senses tore some piece of her mind away from the furious scramble of accelerating mischances and bad choices, lost opportunities (or just plain LOST) that infuriated her hard-working psyche within the padded cell of sleep, and opened the gates of thought to a fresh perception of that different world -- only not different enough. A world of already-missed-chances, Hobson’s choices, fresh deviations from the gilded mean... the place, this is, in which she spent her waking hours. At least it meant an end, or, better, a relief, an interruption from the dreams of the beast that was coming, trailing her, tracking her down... as in fact he (or ‘it’) was tracking everybody down.

She knew the dream was telling her something important. Dreams always told you something important. Though the question of who, then, was the ‘teller’ so far escaped her understanding completely. You must believe in a deeper self, urged Durgah Mah, who lectured her everyday, workaday self (not that she worked; not any more). You must believe that the warning, the information of the unconscious, comes from a wiser deeper being, or entity, dimension, good-ess, or composite, or something, of which you, the waking thing that is Nemene, that ancient scarce-remembered name, was but a tiny part.

You are a bee, she told herself. A bee named Mrs. Nathan. It’s the hive that matters.

It was not clear, but it would probably never be clear, what she should do. Can she merge, fall in, with this cloud, this shadow?

She dreamed. She woke. She spent most of her day in bed. They said she was old; that was why she felt, and suffered, as she did. That was nonsense. She has felt this way her whole life. Overwhelmed, blown back, sometimes completely knocked over by the blast of impressions -- wasn’t that the philosophical word, the phenomenological word? -- that assaulted her.

‘Sense impression,’ the ancient philosophers said; at least in the translations she had seen. Sense data; “the senses.” Physical senses, receiving a continuous flow of information.

Other people sat about, she recalled, as they especially did in ‘the facility,’ and complained of being bored. What was that like?

To Nemene, life was a question of managing the flow, fine tuning it down -- she would have preferred at times to turn it off -- and therefore enabling the active part of her mind to pay attention wholly to a particular element, or current of impressions, chosen by her.

That was how she found Pig. Pared down the continuous, creeping glaciation of sound and imagery that signified his ascent -- (assault? battle plan? electoral “campaign”?) -- in the time soon to come. She termed it, this flood of relentlessly freezing sensation, an “ice age.”

The coming of Pig was the Ice Age.

In the face of a drip-by-drip invasion, Nemene tried to narrow her perceptions to the band of sensation she termed “the rising soon.” What the mind-workers in another field, aster-loggers, called (she believed) the ‘rising sign.’ What was the rising-soon in humanica’s, or urth’s, condition?

Seers, visionaries, know this: You can do nothing about what has already happened. The current does not reverse. No force can wind it backward.

When her granddaughter had been taken from her by the untimely malady, she could do nothing to reverse fatality. And her vain, self-opening efforts to try to save the girl had landed her in the ‘facility,’ a kind of pre-mortal hell for the socially mandated deth-by-dullness, where she slowly built up her flow until she had strength enough, though just barely, to slip away. She called that slow resurgence The Melting.

People of her kind had no ‘power’ of purely physical, or material transactions, Nemene knew. She could see that the Empirical Cash Building had lost its footing and was about to topple over -- and could do nothing to prevent it. She could call the governor’s office and tell him to clear the streets, but no one, naturally, would believe her. The fall of the great building was already molded into the unfolding of things as they are and therefore (to use this brazen example) must be. Life was relentlessly more or less as it always was: predictable, even by those lacking her powers, in terms of rise and fall, a tidal flow, an ocean surge. Mountains loomed up from the urth, and slowly wore away. Waves rose and broke.

The sea was flat in the early morning. The wind rose, the sun poured down its airborne fire, and the ‘sluff’ (as people called it) built and peaked through the midday hours. Moderated at sunset, fell back during evening; stilled in the deepest watches of the night.

All such motion taking place in a ceaseless ever evolving crescendo and decrescendo Nemene can still summon from her mind’s sensory monitor, recalling the splendid, holy evenings at the shore where she grew her personhood and learned to moderate the storms of her own mind. For a few hours at least, here and there, the quiet times when she played at the water’s edge, sitting and watching.

Watching now once more, so she thought, lying among tangled bed clothes in the back bedroom of the bunker, hidden (so she believed and hoped) from a world awash in storms. Tides could not be resisted Waves broke. The ocean endured.

Then a ship, a vessel of some sort, appears on the horizon. What is it?

Is this her job, her purpose? Her mission?

Is this the one, the force, the embodiment, she must learn to know?

It was time for Mrs. Nathan, as she was now known, to make her plan.

She debated whether to force her body out of bed. Stiff, increasingly in the limbs, she felt herself turning into a tree. A word existed for her condition; but some words escaped her these days. And her strength had still not recovered from the beating she had forced upon her body by flight from the facility, that virtuoso performance of the strong woman she had once been. Invoking the cloak of invisibility to pass through the halls unremarked (the eyes of the others slid over her presence) and out the door held open by two figures in scrubs, one female she believed -- hard to tell these days -- as another wheeled a gurney inside the place with the latest incoming pathetic creature upon it. Once again, she noted in soundless passage, hard to tell the gender: that intermingling of aged bodies; most, by the numbers, females. Slipping past, unseen, the slightest whisper of surprise showing on the features of the scrub she judged male as she passed between the glass doors into the open air.

Then the long trek, unseen by anyone she did not wish to notice her, as she sought and finally found a place far enough from the mind-dulling, drug-enforced haze of the facility to feel herself again.

Herself: That meant the wind blew.

She drove herself deeper and deeper among the trees. As she huddled in the indented facade of the abandoned bunker, the wind steadily increased in intensity, clarity, force, penetration. She was shaking -- ‘from cold,’ they thought when they found her. Who cared about cold? What she was feeling was deeper than cold, than any physical sensation, could be. Maybe she was ‘cold’; but it was cold fire that wracked her.

It wracks her still.

Her body, that poor used-up husk of physical stuff that kept her affixed to space and time, grumped and groaned as she worked herself into a minimally more upright position. Who knew that the exercise merely of tensing her arms could exhaust a body?

That was what she was, Mrs. Nathan thought: an exhausted body.

Still had to make it work sufficiently to eat, speak, eliminate, and think. That last was the issue now. She needed some space, some peace of body, to think.

What was her -- our -- plan?

A plan of elimination.

If you chop off the head, the beast will die. A ‘party’ became a headless gang. Subordinates chosen for loyalty, not for brilliant leadership qualities of their own, will contend among themselves to take the place of the fallen leader, the lost head. Violent clashes were inevitable, but likely soon over.

You must look, she commanded herself, for the larger patterns.

Criminal enterprises behave a certain way.

What is this Pig-party “campaign” but an apocalyptically ambitious criminal gang?

The Pig is the Donner, bringing to the campaign the resources of his legally registered front organization, Animal Firm: named for its domination of the international trade in animal parts used for organ generation, with a near-monopolistic hold over this industry. He commanded the bankroll to hire, employ, acquire all that the campaign required. Others leapt in, attracted to the idea of domination, bringing their own dubious ‘talents.’ Crowd control. Media manipulation. Mass-hypnotic marketing. Long-range off-site emotional stimulation, or LOSEM. “Presence-Suppression,” the new field that paid off highly in reducing oppositional presence at the polls on Voting Days, reducing vote totals.

Advocates for opposing candidates left in a hurry, often with their signs broken over their heads.

They scattered in confusion.

As Pig looked on, smiling.

Boasting, as he was known on occasion to do: They love me so much I could kill someone in plain sight, and no one would care. Though he was not so foolish as to make this boast in public.

Mrs. Nathan saw this; felt it. Still, even when you have determined on a bold (and dangerous) course, the question remains. How to carry it out? What is the plan?

The first step was to attach someone -- someone of your own -- to the leader, the archon, the one whom the gods would destroy. If you gave them the chance.

You needed access to Pig’s person. That meant getting someone close enough to the Leading Candidate so that he (or she) could approach, without raising suspicion, the physical manifestation of doom that was Karol Pegasso.

As for the particulars beyond this point, these she did not yet know. It was disturbing, true, that she could not yet see what would happen, which way the winds would blow when -- if -- they (“the Children of the West Wind” as they took to calling themselves; or, more simply, ‘the Children’) succeeded in their principal objective.

She searched for ‘the time to come.’ It should be rising. She watched the trees: as they declined in the fall, the Autumn of the Pig. As they weathered the Sturm und Drang of the wintry Voting season, and showed signs of hesitant renewal as the frozen year came to its end. The old ice grumped off in the woods, gathered up the last leavings of its dirty self, and slipped down among the hidden waters. The trees began to rearrange the magical substances inside them that somehow turned tree into more tree and woke the roots to feel their way into the life beneath the surface. Which way would they find food? Water?

She needed a plant of her own. Not the whole forest. A simple plant would do.

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