The Country/The Country

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42. 'We're going to the Capital'

The moment Keel heard that Pig wanted a rally, he knew they were not going to Wesmire after all.

Pig’s men were busy in The Capitol Building Assembly Room. Stringing up lights, testing the sound gear, lumbering up ladders to check on the unseen nooks and crannies behind ancient rafters, as if they planned to fill the hall with surprising squadrons of balloons. Tapping on wooden walls as if to raise a spirit.

Something was up, Keel knew. He felt it -- an inaudible, subliminal clamor that gave him the internalized thought-space shudder people called a ‘headache.’ Keel did not get headaches, which he understood to be a stress-induced condition. What stress did the quiet-living retired teacher of ancient books have?

Even in the changed environment, in which his role was that of a 24-seven prisoner with no lock on his door and occasional outings with the jailer-in-chief, Keel held out against the notion that the headaches were a symptom of his imprisonment and the vulnerability that status necessarily implied.

He suspected that his pained head was the result of Mrs. Nathan’s thought tendrils creeping into his own crowded neuro-paths.

Were those self-protective neural function resisting her attempts to communicate while she pounded at the door?

“She’s watching,” he’d been told. “She knows everything.”

Standing outside the Capitol Building, door wedged open, while he monitored the clamor taking place inside while holding his leashed, restless-growing canine, he remembered also who had imparted that message: The City of Monro’s lady dog-runner. Daughter-in-law of his onetime enemies, now suitors. The woman who had leaned the side of her face against his own, and whispered in his ear. (Follow her everywhere.)

Did he not trust her? If so, then why was his cerebral corset at work squeezing so hard to spare himself any new communication from Pig’s chief and only viable adversary? That ancient female whose senses picked their way across centuries.

He told himself to drop his guard and open his mind.

Would self listen?

The assembly room was the heart and lungs of the Capitol Building in the solar plexus of the capital zone of the District of Platow, city of Monro, home in the country’s early days to major philosophes and statesguyz.

The room was wood-paneled in a pre-modern style, going back to the Age of Raison, when students of nature and human society worked hand in hand to discover the secrets of time, growth, and earthly processes: The laws of diversity. The dynamics of opposition, conflict, resolution, synthesis.

And, more or less as an accidental byproduct, pioneered a balanced, harmonious architecture that overcame the boredom of absolute predictability by occasional spontaneous, whimsical touches, such as diamond-shaped holes in the ceiling that revealed the pattern of the arched structural ribs, made of the trunks of gigantic templar-trees, that supported the roof and were believed (the holes, that is) to improve the room’s acoustics.

The acoustics were in fact quite good.

Keel anticipated (with relief) that when Pig began blasting the air with one of his full-bore, fever-pitch, high-bellow verbal work-outs, the sound would be less abrasive on his sore head than in more modern rooms with low ceilings and over-amplified electronic brain-feeds.

In addition to its other significances, the rally offered the first opportunity for a close-up TV image of Pig’s visage since the spectacularly unauthorized exposure of the nubs of his horns.

“I promised you something new!” Keel imagined the candidate declaring, with a dramatic one-handed sweep upward from the hairline. “Take a good look!”

Was that the sort of ‘change’ Pig’s campaign promised? That a man with horns could become the country’s leader?

Or that a nation led by a man with horns could dispense with the outworn formality of a constitutionally mandated super-ego called the Sacred Commission?

Pig’s men were handling the cameras now. The viewer wouldn’t know that, of course. Nobody watching a screen at home ever thought about who was behind the camera. The noozmen in the Monro networks’ studios had been briefed on the changes they would be working under for the day’s event, but they had long since realized they were working for no one else but Pig. The Pig campaign, Pig operatives. The new regime had already begun for them.

This suddenly announced prime-evening hour Network Special was just another day in the office for them.

Pig wore his battle uniform. The modified array of the Continental-UZ Militia worn by those descendants of the nation’s historical founders dating back to the Blurry Ages of centuries past when an alliance of the leading families of Patow and some other ancient city-states (including the larger ones of Spylvania and New Delphos) had bonded to rise up in revolt and drive the last king of ancient SerraFinos from the Throne of the Precursors, thereby establishing the People’s Realm of Consensus.

Which in turn eventually became the Commonhope of UZ.

Whether Pig was entitled to the uniform was suspect. It required some creative genealogical conniving to connect his line back to those families of the ancient revolutionary militia. But commentators pointed out that wealthy families had been buying their way into the ancient order of the Continental Militia for generations. It was status. It was a place in the sun.

For Pig acquiring the factitious connection to the CM was simply more proof that there was nothing he could not buy. His wealth came from the continent-spanning APE business empire, Allied Planning and Enabling, the sort of firm that had gained a virtual monopoly over getting things built in the biggest cities of UZ. (Supplemented, of course, by his own creation, the capital-management colossus Animal Firm.) He had inherited, purchased or infiltrated all the steps on the ladder of economic pre-eminence.

Now, Keel reflected, standing in the back of the room and waiting for the unofficial Leading Candidate to march to the podium, he would get to the top. He would simply seize the prize, brushing off all objections.

“The people!” Pig roared. “Have chosen!”

The pronouncement was greeted with an answering roar of approval.

Keel’s head swiveled, looking about. He could not first even find the presence, the mouth that roared out that opening crescendo.

Then he saw. The wall behind the podium fell away -- no, the apparent wall. Now, at its dissolution into thin air, it was clear that the false wall merely an illusion, a projection of light rays.

Hadn’t anybody noticed?

The roar continued, unceasing, in waves.

Again, he looked about. How many throats could possibly be crammed into the ancient hall, tightly packed as they were, to make such aural explosions? The room held a few hundred at most.

Then -- of course! Again! The sound was a product of Advanced Acoustical Magnification. Was this technique the hidden weapon that made all of Pig’s past rallies appear to be cataclysms of adulation?

Like most people, even his supporters, Keel had never been in person to a Pig rally. How could he or any of the country’s voters realize how much of the show’s excitement was caused by technological ‘enhancement’? Was this what all the other rallies were really like? He looked with wild surmise for other faces filling the hall now.

Were they real? Not cleverly contrived peep-bots?

He pinched himself; the flesh complained. Keel, apparently, was still real.

His eyes found Pig, at last. Ensconced on a kind of gallery, high above the podium, behind a hip-high railing where he alone thundered down over the technically-enhanced multitudes.

“Take a good everybody!” he commanded. “Here are the people of UZ ! Here we are! The real people!”

That descriptive rang jarringly on Keel’s assaulted ears, given the irreality of the room’s carefully contrived sound over-production. Real? What was real?

Pig had burst into view from behind the dispersal of a technically-enhanced false front with his motor running and a characteristic barrage of exclamations. Dressed in the mud-brown uniform of the country’s past triumphs, the image of the Founders of UZ. The age-old security-blanket of unchanging arrangements.

The buds of his animal-origins, Keel saw, were concealed anew beneath the antique militia officer’s black-vizered cap.

He bellowed again.

“And what do the people want!”

They told him.

“You all know the answer, don’t you?”

They told him again.

“Let me hear it!”

They did.

“You know it because you are the people!”

“You know what really matters!”

Keel doubted it.

“You know it in your heart!”

Keel wondered about this as well. Did the creatures about him truly possess their own hearts? Or had these somehow also been manipulated into the technical control of the campaign?

“And you came out in District of Platow, the city of Monro, just as they did in all the other cities and towns in all the other districts of this great country of UZ voted what you knew! What your heart told you to do!”

A simple solution. The campaign’s single word.

Keel realized, sinkingly, that Pig, that his entire campaign, never intended to offer a single tangible idea, plan, proposal, or position in this or any of its rallies.

What of those fundamental questions der Leader had pursued in single company with Keel himself? Was it better for a ruler to be loved or feared? Were there too many outsiders cramming into the older cities and towns of the great country of UZ?

Was there a place in the new Pig-ruled order of the Commonhope for those commonly termed ‘Flexibles,’ who refused to fit comfortable into the gender slots ‘nature,’ as Pig’s people saw it, had intended for them?

Were the energies of the builders and growers and makers and doers of UZ, and the enterprises they had already created and those they were sure to create once their fetters were removed, really to be ‘set loose’ of all discretionary government restrictions?

Would war come back into fashion as a mere agent of government policy?

As, Keel had noticed, the number of former soldiers among Pig’s campaign soldiers, aides, and apparatchiks suggested might happen.

Pig hammered on: “The people have voted!”

“They have resoundingly voted!”

“And they voted for --”

He hesitated, teasingly. Nodding opened mouth to his audience as if the word had become tangled amid the gleaming pearly chompers of Pig’s oral cavity and could not be easily loosened...

forcing, by this rhetorical device, his eagerly expectant auditors to halt their own yelps of approval in mid-release...,

an oral akwardness that produced an accidental chorus of bitten-off cheers sounding like:

“-- yeh! -- yeh! -- yeh!”

as if some animal in heat had not yet quite received permission to release the rapture within himself.

Lead on, Keel thought, and hold back. Was that some sort of doctrinal technique from the Handbook of Autocrats? He could not recall reading any such thing in the works of Malachismo Mac-Veely, that ancient philosophe of government for whom both shared a deep, though measured respect.

“-- change!”

Or, perhaps -- as the wave of ear-splitting approval washed over him -- for hysteria, Keel considered, the wave crashing and threatening to drown him in a miasmic sea of mindless admiration.

The explosion served to detach his attention from this painful assault on his senses and freed the monitoring consciousness -- Keel’s inner spy -- to assess the legion of the mind-washed who surrounded him. The crowd looked like a typical swath of Monro’s citizenry. Almost entirely pale-skinned, as was true of the city’s populace as a whole.

Fleshy. Few ectomorphs.

On the whole these Pigglies bulged toward the great middle of the city’s populace, though rather overrepresented on the male side. Keel searched as many faces as he could glimpse from his vantage near the back of the hall where he had been placed (by “the boss’s order,” minder Cloten told him) so that he could get a feel for how the show played to the crowd, but he could not spy a known face. No sign of the Dormands. Were they out of favor? Or had plead some excuse? The ‘big supporters’ who had packed the Dormands’ basement bunker did not seem to here either; they kept their distance from the plebs.

These folks were middling, moderately prosperous, practical, materialistic. People who talked about houses, clothes, family, sports, fashion, celebrities, prices.

They might have gone to a post-secondary, such as the school Keel himself had taught in, but the experience hadn’t changed them much.

They grew up in Monro. Or a place like Monro. They frequently ran into people they went to second-school with.

Unexceptional. None showing obvious signs of want. What drove them? Corraled them into the herd-like mass of Pig supporters? What was this change everyone in the room was so wild to bring about?

What did they think would change?

The next instant he felt/saw a flash in his frontal lobes right behind his eyes in bright, irresistible colors that had not been produced by the room’s techno-wizardry. If Mrs. Nathan had signed her name in psychedelic neon light-spinning-devices, the identity of the origin of this stimulus could not be any clearer.

It was a question of belief.

The belief that something must be keeping these Pig fanatics from being the best, or the biggest, or the richest. Somebody, some conspiratorial force, some group, some others -- other gang.

Maybe that was the word, Keel thought. Their gang was not getting its rightful share. Some other gang was hogging too much. Of what? Keel demanded... The limelight, the highlights, the money and the fun, the fame and the satisfaction?

Success, acclaim, applause, a touch of local fame, a show of respect. Material rewards aw well: money, material things that were big and showy like vehicles and houses.

Babes?

The best jobs. The promotions. The deals going down at the end of town, in the open space determinations of the Planning Division. Why somebody else’s lot could be divided for another dwelling, but yours could not. Why your family’s high-summer playhouse was riverine, and thus restricted, while somebody else on the other side of the same bend got to put up a marina-suprema for the high-rollers and made a boodle. Why the chick you lusted after in high school had married the tooth-doctor, and was still in town, and was still married, and still wouldn’t look at you even though her old man was losing his hair while you went to the gym three times a week and could still press three hundred.

Your band played at the local club, but it would never get to goo anywhere outside of the neighborhood. You would never record an album, get on TeeVee, make a moo-vee, see your face on a zine....

OK, Keel muttered inwardly, hoping the seer could read this thought, I get it. Enough with the Reality Tales of the Common Pigglie.

“The people have voted! They have voted in Monro! In Pitstein! Bunkham! In Belfair City! In every district -- Dunkerland! Maygo! Olde Borland! --

“The people voted for the only candidate who could lead You, the People of The Commonhope of UZ ! -- show you! -- take you! -- to the New Age where you --”

Explosions, somebody’s thumb stuck maybe on the reverb tuner, clamored to a height that threatened to drown out these even these stirring pronouncements.

“Where you, the people of the great nation--”

“-- the only truly great nation!”

Swoons. Fainting.

“Will be the proud citizens once again of the Land of Big Dreams! Forever!”

Was that what we wanted? To be a country of big dreams, and big dreamers. Given the nature of the ‘big dreams’ most of these assembled ‘big dreamers’ were likely to share, they could not by definition all be fulfilled. How many ‘bests’ and ‘mosts’ could there be? How big-shots and B-level celebrities could one small city sustain?

But Pig was still not through. No time to slow down and give the rubes time to think about things?

“I promised you change! Right?”

A grand pause.

Shouts of confirmation from individual voices, like coins thrown on the floor.

Pig’s arms opened steadily wide in a great extended V, as if gathering the corners of the cloak of heaven, the stars above, the celestial rotunda, to pull down the frame of the universe and wrap it protectively around the bodies and souls of his devotees.

“You believed me didn’t you?”

Yes, they screamed! Yes Yes Yes!

“So here’s where it starts.”

Expectant pause.

“It starts right now.” These words delivered more slowly, at less volume.

Did he really mean to say something? Keel asked himself. Anything?

“We’re not stopping because the old men of the Commission want to change the rules in the middle of the game, because we’re winning...”

Some hoots for ‘the Commission.’

“And we’re not going to Wesmire!”

Pig’s broad fleshy features hold the next words, containing them in his big blunt nose, those deep-sunk whirlpool eyes, the looping jaw of the predator, the horny head of the bull-man he ancestrally was .... withholding them in a gesture of superior force until he was good and ready to let them go.

“We’re going to the Capital! We’re going to the Commission’s doorstep!...”

Whoops break out.

Incomprehension also flows through the room.

Keel feels it, an unsuspected suspension of the emotion of release. A vacuum that cried out for clarity. What did this mean?

“And I’m inviting everyone here -- every last one of you -- every last one of all the people who voted for change -- for me -- to come with me!...”

Held breath.

“To the Capital!”

It became a chant. Pig’s gang, at least, knew where this was going. They started the chant: “To the Capital! The Capital!”

The voices of the others joined.

It became a vow. A prophecy. A wave of futurity.

You wanted change? Excitement? Something different? Pig seemed to be saying. Now you’ve got it.

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