The Country/The Country

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34. Pig Animalus

And when Pig looked back at him, some part of him had felt the faint glow of those horn-bone nubs.

That was the needful thing. The nub of the matter.

That was what the black-clad super-girl -- Fama -- had sought from his face-to-face, onesy-onesy encounter with Pig: We need him full in the face.

“The best way to get someone to do that is to look straight at him.

“I know that much.”

“This is not about what you know, Keel. This is what we need.”

Your needs, he thought. What about his? Maybe she could take Survy back out the window with her for a little exercise.

Instead, he asked her how it would work. “What’s the camera? The lens?”

“You. You’re the camera.”

“How does that happen?”

“I have something to make it happen.”

He assumed a pill. Maybe a hypo. Though he did not understand.

“How does it work?”

“It will take over part of your nervous system. Just a tiny piece of it. And take an image.”

“What part of my nervous system? Where?”

A hesitation. “Your brain.”

Oh, sure. I won’t miss any of that, will I?

“What happens then?”

“We show it. We show it to the world.”

That night he waited for, hoped for, her return. To tell him, perhaps, that the ‘process’ in which he had supposedly played the crucial role -- has worked.

Lying awake in his room, Survy content on the bed, her master less so, he switched on

TV monitor his captors had so thoughtfully allowed him the use of, and searched for Headline-Nooz. He couldn’t find it. Instead, he learned that the target audience for the ‘image’ Fama had spoken of was indeed the world.

It was him and her, and me and you. It was everybody.

The screen filled with the image of Karol Pegasso’s pale face. Straight on.

The telltale skeletal nubs, the roots of the horns that all the inhabitants of the Commonhope of UZ once bore, were clearly visible.

It was like the man said, he reflected.

We are all animals.

The image was on all the networks. He pressed another number on his scanner, and then another and another, and all the screens exposed the same image. After the initial shock, he expected to hear the news reader’s voice. Some sort of voice-over even if the network desired to hold the same image inertly, powerfully, on the visual presentation of the broadcast.

A word of explanation. Even a comment or two.

But he heard nothing. The silence was riveting.

How long had the image been broadcast? Was it already drearily familiar to the rest of his fellow citizens who had long ago checked their monitors, at least for a moment or two, before going to bed.

Has it been broadcast, just like this, a face staring from the depths of eternity to the length and breadth of the country all evening? As soon as the late winter light faded and the people came indoors? After the commutation from employment back to the warm home, the smell of food, the sweet expectation of TV time on the couch?

After a while, five minutes? ten minutes?... the shock would wear off. And the thoughts begin. What happens then?

Miles away, many miles from the Chambers Lodging of Monro, in the country beyond ‘the country’ -- the latter fast becoming what Keel thought of as ‘Pig’s country’ -- where Mrs. Nathan presided over the councils of the Noo-World Resistance (as its inmates sometimes referred to themselves with mocking grandiosity), barely restrained whoops of delight greeted the explosion of pixels that almost instantaneously resolved into the image of the fully exposed Pig. They had monitored their screens all evening in anticipation, in pairs or in solitude, until the moment that Keel, the man who had become a lens, and both receiver and projector, pressed the button on his own TV scanner, completing the neuro-electrical transmission circuit that exposed the image Mrs. Nathan wished the world to see.

Mrs. Nathan, alone in her room, saw the picture at the same instant, and sighed with relief. Then chuckled a little, almost girlishly.

Though she professed to the others her confidence that sub-technical (or supra-technical) “procedures” she had instituted, and tested -- as much as such things could be tested -- would function exactly as she wished, in fact she had no certitude that a difficult mentalist feat never before attempted by her, or anyone else, would actually work the way she wanted.

The target was high: all the screens in the country, regardless of what network they were connected to.

Then she waited all that evening for Keel to switch on his TV to trigger the neuro-connective procedure Fama installed in the utilitarian receiving device she found in his modest lodgings.

Many factors might explain the delay.

“What if he’s -- well, not alive?” one of the men, the Kevvens, asked.

“I’d know. I think we’d all know.”

“You don’t think they could have taken him somewhere?” asked Fama, who having put

away her black climbing suit was now back in her ordinary aerobic wear. “To question him?” ‘Question’ was a word she hesitated on.

“Please, Fama. I don’t know the answer to every question. I don’t know everything.”

“You don’t?”

The question sounded sincere. Mrs. Nathan’s features tightened into lines more severe than her customary dismissive stoicism. Did the girl have no more understanding of the weight this old head was barely carrying? Why it seldom left the pillow?

“Be assured,” she said. Rejecting anger for compassion for a girl who, like herself, seldom betrayed any sign of emotion softer than a steely determination to do all that was asked of her. Climb a vertical facade with experimentally developed reverse-gravity magnetized shoes? Why not?

And for the others, who were seldom able to bear more than a few minutes of her largely stony presence.

She would know, Mrs. Nathan told herself, if anything happened to Keel. She would know if he hurled himself out a window. Or if someone else provided that sort of assistance. She would know, but she would be able to do absolutely nothing about it.

Alone, after Fama departed, she took out her worry beads. Odd, irregularly shaped wooden carvings, rounded with age. They had been faces, originally, her mother told her, somewhere back in the beginning of time. She had caressed the features of these saints…

The man who had said, “My religion is kindness.”

And the man who said, “Suffer the little children…”

And the one who asked, “What is the grass?”

And the one known as Rumor, who said so very much...

And she had held on to them so faithfully, so voraciously, that she smoothed all their features down to a sort of Olympian mask of smiling indifference. And yet still in her heart --

‘their hearts,’ Mrs. Nathan corrected in her thoughts -- she (and they) still believed the wise ones loved her.

They began with smashing the televisions.

It was necessary to respond somehow. They sent men to the local networks, to the Headline News. But the broadcasters threw up their hands and pleaded loudly, with more than a little terror on their faces, quiver in their voices, that they had nothing to do with what was appearing on their viewers’ screens.

“We don’t know what’s happening!”

The quaver in their voices, and the expressions on their faces said, “Don’t blame us! We didn’t do it! Look! We’ve turned off all our signals.”

The campaign heavies who stared in return, their pockets bulging with weaponry, tools, small nasty devices, blinked in a confusion of their own. How could they know if ‘all’ the network’s signals were turned off?

The techies pointed at their machines, babbling in a strange language of their own, explaining stuff, but the men had not come to learn techie jargon but to stop it from happening. One of campaign’s soldiers pulled out a metal rod and banged it down on the device, all metal and black plastic and wire, that the techie had pointed to as the one they had shut off as soon as they saw the image projected on the screens at the NoozDesk.

“No!” the techies wailed.

But rod-man smacked it again and then kicked a few table legs and then made a small, casually plotted circle of the nooz-studio smashing all the screens that were continuing to expose the full face of the Leader.

“No pictures!” he shouted.

As if those who failed to understand the commandment uttered by the Leading Candidate from the start of his so far victorious campaign needed a physical reminder of what would happen to those who broke it.

When the men with clubs and guns and other aids to thuggery left the broadcast rooms of the city of Monro’s network studios, they poked their noses into the nearest public facilities -- tavernas, latenite sit-rooms, fast foodies, coff-shopz like the Broad Street franchise where Keel had sat with ‘Kevin’ when he first discovered that others were lurking where he was lurking... They forced themselves into the gaz-stop on Mine Street to discover two unoccupied attendants in the cash-and-sit room sitting with their legs crossed gazing at the image of Pig and theorizing about the origins of the telltale nubs.

“Mebbe he screwed a gote,” one hypothesized.

“You mean his ol’man, don’cha?”

“Screwed his ol’ man? Jeez!”

“Geddout uh-here and go home!” soldiers roared, bursting into the room and taking a hammer-claw to the screen.

The attendants scurried from the debris of their catastrophically disassembled monitor. “Nuthin mer t’see, gyze!”

From there to the nearest multi-homes. Ringing door buzzes. Clabbering on locked doors.

“You gotta monahta, folkz? Leddus see, huh?”

Doors opened; monitors exposed.

Smash. Crash. Alacabash.

Seemingly the guys in the nooz-desks at all the stations, the techies among them, were right. Back at the lodge the bosses scratched their heads. Putting the studios out of operation has done nothing to stop the exposure of Pig’s image on vid-monitors all over the city. In public places, and private places -- though what was the difference when you knocked on a door with a metal rod in your hand?

Metal rods worked well on individual monitors. But did not appear to solve the underlying problem.

Eventually, they decided to try something else. The decision was made in the early morning hours. At a conference held largely within the hearing of Keel, who, sleepless, had pounded on his door until his personal guard, big-fella Feebs, had at last opened the door to his fervent appeals that the dog needed to be let out for reasons of nature.

Feebs scowled.

Keel extended the leash. “Here. If you don’t believe me, you take her.”

As he hoped and expected, the big man pushed the leash away and growled something about being sure to lock himself back in so he would not have his sleep interrupted a second time to lock the door behind him. Keel nodded, sympathetically.

His ‘confined’ status was seeming vaguer and more porous all the time. He wondered whether he should ask Pig whether he could not simply go home and make himself available for further consultations as desired. But something told him that Pig wasn’t through with him yet.

He took the back stairs down to the parking area where he had walked Survy the night before, but got off this time on the second floor instead. If discovered, he could always say he left the stairway by mistake and got confused. He wanted to find out who else might be locked up here. He has seen hardly anyone beyond those who appeared to be members of the campaign, inner circle, staff, or mere muscle, in the dining room. The only others were the women.

They hung together, generally as far from Pig’s table, as they could, though it seemed to Keel that those closest to the boss were likely the men they served -- which would explain why they kept as far from sight as they could. These were not relationships of choice. He could read the color of their thoughts in the furtive glances aimed toward the boss’s table.

Eat. Hide. Try to sleep. Hope he doesn’t come for you.

Who were they? Locals? Rounded up on the first few days? Partners of longer duration ought to have more status, though they might prefer the company of other women. A few of these, the newly kidnapped ones probably, seldom looked up, but glued their gaze to the table and food brought them by the uniformed waitresses.

The waitresses moved among them, setting down their plates, in a tense silence of their own.

Spouses, regular partners, would be a distraction, he realized. ‘I’ll be gone for a few weeks, honey. Keep the home fires burning.’

As Keel made his wraith-like surveillance of the silence of the corridor, a loud quarrel, largely audible throughout the thin walls of the lodge, broke out on the floor below.

“You’re talking about animals, you idiot! This is our candidate!”

Pig had the sign, the stigma, of the beast upon him.

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