The Country/The Country

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48. She pulled his highly reluctant form out a sliding window to scrabble behind her down the side of the building

Standing alone, Keel watched the parade of self-named “Abominables,” under the grip of a horrid fascination.

Freed by his week of captive shoulder-rubbing with Pig campaigners at the Lodge from the shock of his first encounter with the Pigglies at the Monro takeover, he sought now to see beneath the surfaces. Some of the men, often the burliest creatures, carried clubs or ball-bats, some wore ancient long-barreled pistols stuck in waistbands burdened by bands of ammunition. Some even carried the short-handled tomahawks used to chop kindling. Did the bodies of human creatures strike these fellows as material for kindling? Keel asked himself.

He has yet to see any of these weapons deployed and began to suspect they existed more for image than for use. To impress their fellows.

They would not be of much use if these rabblers ever found themselves in a real fight -- would they? he asked himself -- with any of the armed units of the state. Such as The Capital Police or the national deterrent bodies known collectively as the Harmed Forces. Clubs, pistols, hatchets? Against armored vehicles and multi-fire machines?

Or were they simply planning on making camp on the lawn of the Capitol Building, chopping kindling for fires and pounding in tent stakes? While Pig and his council of advisers ventured into the blue-stoned Hall of Assembly, where the country’s ruler met with his own councils and teams of administrators gathered to discuss reports from the country’s various research agencies and program analysts?... just as the duly chosen leader is supposed to do.

Keel stood off to the side, under one of the Sacred Way’s prized, cultivated banyan trees, and studied the multitudes of Pigglies, especially those who had shoved themselves through the crowd to head of this parade to the Place of Installation, where the Boss himself would appear at the appropriate time to make the Big Speech, thus guaranteeing themselves the best places to show their avidity for dominance, their loyalty, and their true affection for the Pig-man who had conquered the ’leets and the ‘flexibles’ and all those who wore glasses and read books and thought they were superior.

Keel began to see what was inside these people. Their desire for conquest.

Some of them resembled wolves, some tigers. Some huge Mountain Bear-like lifeforms who walked on their two back legs and scavenged the world with hungry growls. Others dragged their saurian bulk over the land and greeted their prey with a reptilian sneer. Weren’t people animals at base? Keel asked himself. Didn’t we all emerge from long-ago life-forms that wandered an un-peopled, pre-peopled urth, feeding where, and on what, they could?

It is our turn to eat, the grins and glares and snarls of these two-legged beasts, the weaponized faction of Pig movement, now proclaimed. We have waited a long time for this moment. We mean to make the most of it.

We will eat for days and days. Months and months. Years, perhaps many years. Then we will belch, and roll over, and die happy.

But the most numerous of these were serpents. They wore ordinary clothes. He has seen many such men, men mostly -- they must have their female counterparts, but perhaps he did not recognize them so well -- among the staffers and campaign followers who flowed in and out of the Capital Lodge in Monro. They wore the ordinary biz-dress of the biz-world, jacked and tied, with inexpressive neckwear, leather-soled footwear, and found somebody, apparently at home or on the payroll, to do their laundry and keep things neat. They were hired-liars, Peer-R men, scribblers, searchers, number guyz and galz (suited women showing up among these), and the most numerous of all, though they came in many flavors, colors, shapes and sizes, were the talk-men and talk-dolls offering the value of their expertise, experience, accumulated knowledge, research, market-slobber, sanguinary outlooks, and TAD-tocks.

Among their number were many who were no doubt on the payroll of Pig’s bankrolling Animal Firm. But the greater stream of the serpentine breed were the liars, simply guyz and galz on the make, easy to buy and sell, here to make nice with the new Boss, make a connection here and there among those about him, end up with something warm and fuzzy, and not too demanding, for their own furtherance and perhaps a future occupation. Some would consult, and some would console, some would tender shoulders for crying, and others would do the cryin’ out loud. They offered their mouths and their lips and their shiny teeth for sale and promotion, their little minds running hard to keep up, their ears open for the whispers in the corner, their bodies hunched under eaves to catch a drop or two of the latest gods-sip, their eyes fixed on the starz of the day.

Keel saw the flick of their tongues. Their approach crawled along the route-way of the Installation parade, slithering up and past one another, exchanging a hiss or a whispered confidence.

And behind them paraded the great bulk of Pig’s followers, herd animals of both sexes and most ages with the bulge of their numbers toward the middle. Here because they were told to come, urged to come, cajoled, enticed, promised unspecified advantages, black-mailed and bribed and brain-washed with a vague hope for some personal gain flowing their way from Pig’s elevation.

The better fortunes in life would now begin to find them, instead of the others. If not now, then when?

Keel had spent the night before among a much different collection of human specimens.

Fama had come for him in the early morning hours of the still black night, climbing into the Lodge, another lodge (this one called Major Capital Lodge) much like the one in Monro only everything was newer and more expensive looking, the bathroom seemingly designed to suggest the Ruins of Pumpsie, the home of an ancient culture catastrophically preserved when a nearby mountain blew off its top and filled the closest towns with killing gases. (It was a lot like Voting Days.) His room’s dark and stony interior made Keel almost afraid to inhabit it. Fama, however, was afraid of nothing. She hid in that dark sanctuary when footsteps suddenly rumbled down the seventh floor corridor and voices were heard outside of Keel’s door. But evidently the choice of this spot for a conversation was happenstance and after a two-minute exchange of views on the next’s day’s event, producing such voiced opinions as “I say we kill the bastids,” the footsteps resumed their journey to somewhere else in the many-floored manmade mountain.

Fama emerged, ordered Keel to stay within the cone of silence she spread about her own figure, grabbed him by the cuff of the jacket she had brought him, and forced his into magnetized shoes like those on her own feet and his fingers into climber’s ionized gloves. She then pulled his highly reluctant form out a sliding window to scrabble behind her down the side of the building, his stomach in his mouth, his butt in the air, and his nose pressed against the building’s cold facade all the way down.

Fama gathered the night-colored wire cords that held them to the wall with a single pull, the strands turning nearly invisible and coiling themselves back into her pack as if from a desire to get safely back to their own warm and darksome home.

Then she led their way through the noir-clad city to the camp of the Opposition.

They arrived in different ways, on vehicles of many sizes.

Sturdy young people and veteran bikers had cycled from nearby districts, chewing up two hundred miles of hard of surface a day and more.

Some had boarded buses in distant cities and rolled tediously to stations near the Capital, or its suburbs; or to small cities across the district line in neighboring Splitsvania, walking the remaining distances to avoid attention. A few slept on sidewalks.

Some large excursion vans brought thousands of spectators to the Capital City, in the District of Bon-Hombri, as they always did at times of Installation of a new leader or some great national holiday. What the world did not know was that this time a far greater percentage of van tickets had been snapped up by the opponents of Pig, those sworn to secrecy (and empty smiles) about their plan to counter the installation.

Some few, the better off, had purchased tickets on the great, cumbersome flying machines that had been wheeled out of the cavernous sheet-metal barns where they spent most of their days since the last war, and were fitted up for uncomfortable rides for paying passengers desiring quick journeys to momentous events.

All these pilgrims to the Capital City had found their way, following lines of mental communication pioneered by Mrs. Nathan, to an encampment on the other side of the Tannin River, the original home of rougher industries such as leathering, marble work and handmade weaponry. Those ancient manufactories were long gone, though some reminders of the scent remained. Now they were waste fields, tent cities, homes for those who could find no better, sites for illegal disposal of construction debris, brick piles from demolished factories and storage houses, piles of lapsed concrete and stonework, and refuges for lower-level servants of the criminally employed.

The opponents of Pig, the “Populi,” as some groups had begun calling themselves, as if to draw a distinction between these who favored human values over the meaner values required for brute survival, poured from the four directions of UZ into these debased lands late in the afternoon before the date self-proclaimed by Pig for his Installation march.

That night they prepared themselves to carry out the dis-attraction they hoped would bar the installation of Pig. Even a mock installation, a mere imitation, a diabolically unsanctioned ritualization of the Pig Campaign’s claim of Sacred Selection as the new Ruler could not be permitted to go forward. The Populi feared the consequences. They had learned, through whispered confessions and hidden communications, by personal testimony of the humiliated and ‘shamed,’ by the confirmations of eye witnesses who had stood by and been afraid to intervene -- and who now burned with their own shame and a new determination to make up for that failure--

of the campaign of intimidation combined with media control, mind control, and the stage-managed bluster of the aggrieved and the cynical... all the twisted tactics and backroom dealings that had subverted the sanctity of the Voting Days.

The government of their country was about to be taken over by foul means.

Could this be endured?

What of values? What of wisdom? What of the sacred traditions of the Commonhope of UZ?

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