The Country/The Country

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35. ‘They've Got You Too?’

Keel froze and waited for the shouting to stop. Silence returned within a quarter minute, and he waited another two minutes, until he heard a vehicle race its engine and race off from the parking area. The departure seemed to ease the tension that seemingly had leaked through every pore in the building.

He walked halfway down the corridor and leaned to place an ear against a door chosen at random. Some slight readjustment in the material universe seemed to express itself as the slightest of motions. Keel put a hand on the doorknob, twisted and pushed gently. The door was unlocked.

He opened it and stepped inside. He thought the room was empty and froze in fear when a figure shot up from the bed and stared at him. Male. Dressed casually. Sweats. A sort of clothing Keel did not possess.

“My god,” the man said. “They’ve got you too?”

It was Keven, the first Keven. The one who had taken him to the Broad Street Geoffrey’s.

“No,” he said. “We’ve got them.”

But Keven, pale features drawn, eyes dark-lined, did not look happy. He paced the room’s short length, some other urgency on his own mind.

“I wouldn’t say that.”

He stopped in front of the window that looked out on the parking area behind the lodge and stared in that direction. There was nothing to see.

“Maybe you should tell them what’s going on,” Keel suggested. “Or do they already know?”

Keven did not answer his question. In this, he reminded Keel of Fama. Always keeping a separate accounting. Have they been instructed not to answer questions, any questions, concerning the “them” that both men knew Keel was referring too.

“They’ve got you in the right place, haven’t they?” Keel persisted.

“Well,” the second-floor inmate responded at last, “that remains to be seen.”

Keel told himself to be wary of immodesty. Has has grown proud in half hour since the image of Pig Animalus appeared on the screen in his own cell? But Keven appeared less impressed by the coup of exposing Pig to the world.

Perhaps the revelation would not lead to the end of the Leading Candidate’s campaign after all. Perhaps people would still vote for him.

“You think this won’t matter?” Keel asked bluntly.

The other sat down on the bed and shrugged his narrow shoulders.

“You know the history,” he said.

“You mean the founders’ history?”

“The founders were a bunch of great guys and gals but they weren’t perfect,” Keven said. “They had their own animal nature. They kept animals under compulsion, for their use. They raised them to eat them.”

“We do that.”

“Yeah.” Flatly. “But not personally. And,” he resumed with the frown that naturally accompanied talk of such matters, “occasionally they mated with them.”

“They banned that.”

“They did. The country did.” Keven continued his lecture. “They passed laws mandating clear distinctions between people and animals.”

“The Species Acts.”

“Right. The Species Acts mandated clear distinctions between ‘creators,’ which means people, and ‘creatures’ -- the animals. Creators share with the godes responsibility for our own fate as a country and our own fortunes as individuals. The animals remained creatures, one with the earth. They still serve us. But they are not of the same essence. They are not held to standards of right behavior.,.. And -- I think I’m quoting here -- ‘For they could not speak with their tongues.’”

“I think you are.” But Keel began to worry about what was on the other man’s mind.

“Now, my understanding of what happened after the Species Acts was that people knew that -- once in a while -- some sign of that ancient congress between people and animals appeared on the bodies of human beings. These marks were regarded as signs of our ancient shame as a people, a species, and imported no cause of shame to the given individual who bore them. Nevertheless, those carrying the marks of that ancient shame did their best to hide these signs from others. It was just, well, human nature.”

Ah.

“So what you’re saying,” Keel responded, “is that we’re asking people to reject Pig over something that’s not his fault. We’re asking people to ‘vote,’ so to speak, with their prejudices. Not with their reason.”

We’ve shown everyone, he thought, that Pig was not a pureblood creature. Of course, Keel thought, none of us was. But most of us could pretend.

Keven rose from the bed with a shrug and walked to the window.

“Look,” he said. The window was still filled with darkness, but a few lights now cut across the parking area.

“They’re moving. Some of them.”

“The campaign?” Hope in his voice. “Are they leaving Monro?”

Keven snorted derisively. “And what good would that do? Do you want them to take over some other city and do the same stuff to them they did to us?”

Keel felt his face color.

In truth was, he wished for nothing more than for the Pig Campaign to leave Monro. Face it, he was self-centered. (Isn’t everyone?) Focused on his own narrow best interest --the ease and comfort of his prior existence, dull as it often was. And solitary, of course.

He wanted to go back to his little neighborhood walks. To sit in his chair and read his old books. But what of his citizen’s love of country?

He felt ashamed.

He struggled to find the words to acknowledge his failing, but Keven turned his head to look to the window again, and Keel saw the marks on his ear and neck. The places where the shamer’s stick had fallen.

He’d been shamed – is this what happens to those who don’t break and confess their sins against Pig? They take you back to their place and lock you up?

“I’m sorry,” he said. Without elaborating.

The younger man’s eyes remained glued to the window. His hair was starting gray at the tips, Keel noticed, around the ears.

“Maybe,” Keven said, “it’s time to get out of here.”

He watched from a thinly parted door while an abruptly liberated Keven threw a few items into a bag, then stepped out of the way as the man he still thought as his ‘first Keven’ made a silent

departure from his cell-room and slipped down a stairwell to the building service exit.

He was looking better, Keel thought, once the decision to leave had been made.

Seconds later he saw him dart from the service entrance with the determined stride of someone with a job to do, his overcoat thrown loosely over this shoulders in the style both had observed employed by Pig’s soldiers sent on an errand best performed on foot.

Keel closed the door quietly behind him, then headed for the stairs, choosing at the decisive moment to go up rather down.

It did not make sense to take his own exit.

Where would he go? If he went home to the little house on Yester’s Lane, Pig’s minions would simply scoop him up again whenever Pig required (or whimsically indulged) his presence. That summons would come; Keel felt it in his bones. Or in his nerves. Or whatever portion of his anatomy that was now connected him to the powerful network of psychic connections maintained by the far-sighted Mrs. Nathan.

In his own room he lay down on the bed, but could not sleep. Heard the occasional squeal of tires as the campaign’s soldiers devised new attack plans on the persistent image.

Daylight was seeping through the window when he disturbed the eerie quiet of the third

floor corridor by opening his unlocked door. He took the dog with him to give himself an excuse for leaving his room and made his quiet way down to the ground floor, where voices could be heard coming from the dining room.

“So whadda we know?” a voice demanded at high volume.

Keel recognized it as the boom-tone setting of Kinslicker, the soft, gray, oversized condottieri who posted himself on Pig’s left hand and took that place as spatial authority to offer the most extreme commentaries he could think of.

Keel could not hear a response.

“Who did it? Do we even know that? Where are the feckin’ teckies?”

After some cross-talk he heard another voice, the more modulated, perhaps military cadences of Baines, the counselor with pink-skin disease who stood in most often for Pig’s voice.

“...we have to find out,” Baines was saying, “and we have to stop them.”

“So what do we do until we find them? And if we can’t turn it off?”

The voice, Keel thought, of the reed-like man who looked sounded like the campaign’s paid-petitioner. “We could go to court. Get a gag.”

“Shit yeah!” someone else shouted. “The highest court. They’re messing with the Voting. The Commission should step in and deal with this.”

“The commission?” Baines’s mocking interrogative. “Where is the Commission? Why is this thing still going on? We’ve won!”

“It may be news to you, Baines,” the lawyer, whom Feeb had named to him as Cavo responded, sounding superior and peevish. “We haven’t won a thing until the Sacred Commission says so.”

“Screw the Commission --”

“Now, now, boys and girls,” another voice intercedes, effortlessly commanding attention, “let’s play nice.”

The voice is Pig’s. It’s not the stump-volume Pig. Just arriving, Keel guessed, entering the room from the kitchen side, where (he had overheard) the boss liked to nose around on occasion and even pop the occasional suggestion.

Not the rumble-thumping stentorian Pig, shaking up the comfortable, making the nation proud again. But the voice of the man who is keeping his head.

The voice tells everybody who’s still in charge and desires to make sure everyone else knows it. A voice that carried easily through the room and out to the corridor where Keel still pressed a wall and listened. The voice was thoughtful, disdainful, effortless, causing a little alarm to sound in the back corner of Keel’s mind, where the questions lived.

It did not sound like the voice of someone facing a crisis. It sounded -- Keel could not deny -- like a leader’s voice. Did he even know about the revealing transmission of his Pig-with-horns portrait that had outraged, and perhaps unbalanced, his followers? You could not be sure from his demeanor.

Keel listened to the rise of more conversationally tuned voices. With the boss back in charge of keeping order in the inner circle, others of lower rank relaxed into a state something like normal, muttering and griping. He judged it was time to slip into the room, with the perfect insouciance of someone who has climbed out of bed and wandered down to see if the first meal of the day was being served.

Most people were standing, he saw. So it was no ordinary meal time gathering.

Keel snuck up behind the backs of broad guard-dog bodies, hoping to learn something more. When a thick-limbed fellow turned to the side to suppress a yawn and stretch his elbows out to the side -- the day had begun early; how many screens had he smashed? -- Keel got a look at Pig sitting at ease in his usual seat by the window and rubbing the side of his own head, just before, and above, the ear, as if to draw attention to the defect so spectacularly, continuously aired before the nation.

See, this gesture said, I am comfortable with my horns. With my bestial origins. Shouldn’t we all be?

“Everyone wants to know what we’re going to do,” Pig declared, raising his voice, sounding confident, almost teasing. Taking pleasure in the uncertainty of others.

“I’ll tell you what we’re going to do.”

An expectant silence.

“Nothing.”

In his mind Keel saw the candidate better than he ever did with his senses. He saw him scan his audience, seek out faces, look his followers in the eye.

No one said a thing, the room still holding its breath.

Pig laughed. At his ease.

“We’re not panicking. We’re not afraid. We’re not chasing through the country to find out who’s responsible for this petty little sneak attack. It’s pathetic. It’s for losers.”

He laughed once more, as a new thought occurred.

“Pathetic,” he repeated. “It’s like taking a picture of a man when he’s sitting on the toilet. As if nobody’s allowed to have an asshole.”

Then he laughed, freely. Everyone else in the room was moved to relieve their tension with laughter as well.

“You get it, comrades? The joke’s on them.”

He gave them an instant to think, to decide that they saw the joke as well.

“We will not only permit this nasty little act to go unpunished...” He eyed the room, like a hungry man who saw the feast arriving. “We will use it.”

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