The Country/The Country

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47. 'Me First!' Their Banners Proclaimed

On the day of its self-proclaimed “Marche of Triomphe,” the Pig Campaign had arrogated unto itself command of the Grand Allee (also known as the Sacred Way), the broad open way built for the traditional victorious march to see the newly elected ruler installed in office on the steps of the Capitol Building. And, on rare occasions, for other triumphs of UZ. Though the country had not had a war, or proved victorious in the international competition known as the World Supper, in ages.

The Installation Procession was a formal parade.

At its head the newly endorsed ruler waved gracefully from the back of an open carriage, a gilded vehicle dating from the ancient days of the country’s founding, while spectators cheered the passage with polite enthusiasm and a sense of familiar, comforting ennui: This was how things went in the Commonhope of UZ. This was how they were always supposed to go. The Sacred Commission chose a warm spring day (after consultations with a chosen Board of Meretricians) for the event of the Grand Installation. If the weather disappointed, raining or turning cold on the chosen date, the Commission simply waited for a day it liked better. Those who planned to attend simply sighed and went back to work or (more frequently these days) called in to their employment and declared their intention to take a ‘home day.’ Schools responded to the cancellation, individually, by deciding whether to open late or simply stay closed. Weather forecasts were in high demand.

Installation Day, when the parade went forward as planned and the Leading Candidate was Elevated to the Ruling Seat, was naturally a national holiday. All businesses were closed. All public buildings shut their doors. If they did nothing else, citizens were expected to spend some time reflecting on their heritage as a free people in a free society ruled by ancient traditions of wisdom and afore-thought.

The Installation Procession itself was a stately progress to the Goddess of Reason, the gigantic marble sculpture given pride of place at the terminus of the Sacred Way. The sculpted image of the goddess emerging from a tree-clad hillside was a work of genius by the land’s first peoples, one of the many marvels embraced by the founders of the Commonhope in the early days of the Founding.

The Agents of the Sacred Commission performed the ritual of installation, since the commissioners themselves, of course, never appeared in public, at least not in the robes of office. The Agents, the “hands and tongues” of the Commission, as they were sometimes called, dressed in some adaptation of what was believed to be the ceremonial dress of the Founders. Long, heavy robes of gold or silver thread, crusted with bits of minerals, or sewn from a heavy, silken-to-the-touch fabric dyed a royal purple. Yes, in the oldie days, the people of UZ had kings. But back then they weren’t truly UZ, as every school girl and boy was taught, until they gave up faith in hereditary rulers in favor of Reason, rule by law, and the sacred act of individual choice known as ‘Voting.’

The High Agents of the Commission read the charge of office to the newly chosen leader. Other Agents clad the chosen leader in robes of purple silk like their own, though not quite so heavy to allow ease of movement during the ceremony. The chosen leader raised his or her hands to the sky, fingers extended to show that nothing was concealed within them, and no jewelry or signets of devotion to other causes or societies were worn upon them, and then solemnly declared Acceptance of the Charge, declared allegiance to the Principles of Reason and Law and One Love, and then fell to earth to lie prone and kiss the bare toes of the Agents, symbolically acknowledging the primacy of the Sacred Commission.

Somewhat later, festivities with public entertainments, races, games of sport, exhibitions of dance and song, followed by a good deal of feasting and drinking would be offered to the public, all of it free and universally accessible, along the full length of the Sacred Way. In the weeks leading up to the date of the Installation, dinner guests would excuse themselves from second rounds of rich food by declaring that they were ‘saving their appetites for the Installation.’

But none of these events would take place on the occasion of Pig’s March of Triomphe.

The procession planned by Leading Candidate Karol Pegasso and his campaign advisers and its tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of followers (who knew how many?) -- certainly no one knew how many would attend -- was unsanctioned by the Sacred Commission. No one in authority had declared Pig the victor in the Voting for the new ruler of the country of UZ. To hold a Rally of Public Moment on the Sacred Way, or anywhere in the capital, was a right of all citizens. No one would think of interfering. But staging your own Right of Installation, without the sanction of Commission, would probably be found illegal.

The declaration of victory in the Voting for the new leader came from Pig and his followers alone. Though it was widely reported on the networks in the bland, unquestioning style with which these nooz-shows had covered Pig’s rallies and Pig’s victory speeches, in which nothing substantial was ever said but every word was greeted with profuse demonstrations of adoration.

By now, the campaign had publicly declared its refusal to travel to distant Wesmire and compete in yet another Voting Day, having triumphed consistently in so many Voting Days already. If the Sacred Commission would not do its duty and declare Candidate Pegasso the country’s newly chosen Chief Xec, then the Pegasso Campaign took this obligation on itself. The citizens of the Commonhope of UZ would march in triumph, in a victory procession sanctioned by their own certain knowledge that ‘the people’ have clearly made their choice; their choice is Pig; and it was time for the Sacred Commission to stop dithering and acknowledge Pig’s right to be ruler. (These statements were widely reported on the networks, often without the accompanying explainer that the Sacred Commission had in fact withdrawn the designation of Leading Candidate from Pig and was investigating claims of fraudulent or improper activities by his campaign.)

The Pegasso Campaign sincerely hoped, a spakesman declared, that the Sacred Commission could see the logic behind its course of action and declare themselves fully ready and able to send their Agents on the day of the Procession to enact the Installation. To play, that is, the role the Commission has always played in installing the country’s new leader. Whether the Commission chose to conduct itself in this disinterested and patriotic fashion, the spakesman continued, was up to its members.

But in any event, sanctioned by the Commission or not, the Leading Candidate’s campaign had chosen a date for the Installation. And, rest assured, it would take place, even if Pig was required to move heaven and earth -- sweeping away the clouds, stilling the rain -- to make it happen.

The Sacred Commission held its peace.

The day dawned bright, the birds calling attention to this development from the well-pruned trees and the communication wires that ran between the Wereihm River and the Sacred Way.

But soon, as the crowds gathered, the birds slipped away. They didn’t mind a few people. But a thundering herd such as this? Out of here!

The trees too were troubled. They turned their leaves from side to side, though the breeze was slight, seeking some sign from the atmosphere of what was about to transpire, because the tips of their roots were already sensing the vibrations as the earth shuddered beneath the approach of the advancing multitude.

Some made initial preparations to drop their leaves if the thunder in the ground should turn to smoke and fire in the air. Only the sky remained serenely unimpressed. Offering the anticipated light breezes and rather more passing clouds than called for.

By mid-morning the people’s army of the Pegasso Campaign had arrived in force, just as everyone -- or at least anyone who lived in any of the districts where the Voting Days had been held -- expected it would. Mostly on foot now, an Army of Intimidation, helmeted, tattooed, metal-wearing, some members fire-armed -- openly declared themselves lovers of the primeval appetite of violence and crowded to the front of the march.

“Me First!” their banners proclaimed.

And: “I’m for Pig Cuz Pig’s for Me!”

They bore signs that read: “Drop Dead, We’redos!” accompanied by hand-drawn caricatures of club-wielding cavemen who in fact looked more like themselves than any other group of citizenry.

Some of the women wore t-shirts, bare-armed despite the crisp vernal air, reading “I’m with Nice Guy!”

Nice Guy grinned beside her, long-toothed, balding, tattooed around the neck and upper arms with the lash of a spiked dragon’s tails, its grinning teeth and balls of fire that spiraled down chests and backs covered in their own mocking tees. Fellow Pigglies approached to point at the logo on the woman’s shirt and make mocking jests, but Nice Guy only shook his head and shouted, “I gotta be nice to her or she’ll cut off my balls in my sleep! But the rest of you assholes keep outta my way!”

Then he roared with laughter.

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