A twisted tale of Life, Politics, and what some might consider cruelty to animals ...

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Chapter 6

I awoke in the morning soon after sunrise to a brilliant blue sky and the sounds of birds singing. Considering everything that had happened up to this point, I should have said that 'it figured' with a suitably sarcastic smirk. I should also have added that while such things can often be very enjoyable, they tend more often to be nauseating when taken beyond certain limits, and this situation skirted a line that I was in no mood to have crossed. In point of fact, there were probably two or three more equally insightful comments that I should have liked to have made while warming up to one of my better rants. In point of fact however, I voiced none of these caustic comments, for no better reason than the fact that there was no one there to make them to.

Having realized that I was going to have to make due with muttering these comments under my breath, and since I'm not one of those people who can laze around in bed when my internal clock has decided that I should be awake, I threw the covers back and set my feet onto the floor to begin the day. My first move was to more completely investigate the bathroom that I had been introduced to briefly the day before, and I was grateful again that upon further examination that everything looked pretty much the way that I thought it should. (I wasn't sure that I was in any way ready to deal with a magic toilet or some such nonsense.)

Isn’t it amazing that the most important things in life (like bathrooms) are the ones we take most for granted. I sometimes shudder to think that I might have lived in another age where indoor plumbing was primitive or worse, nonexistent. Of all of the progress that mankind would like to lay claim to, the advances in plumbing may be the least understood and under appreciated. Their impact on the health and well being of civilization as a whole should not be taken for granted, nor should the results of such improvements to the general aroma of the species be ignored. Oh sure, we're finding that many of the ancient civilizations of the world had some form of indoor plumbing, some of it long before we suspected. The impetus that created private facilities however is a modern one that should be celebrated regularly. For while civilizations like the Romans had baths that were great in their day, I'm not as big a fan as I probably should be about bathing in public. 


On the other hand, when the Roman Empire fell, so apparently did the art and necessity of the use of plumbing that they brought to their age. How many people were killed in the Middle Ages and the so called Renaissance from diseases that were caused or spread from a lack of proper sanitation systems and the unwillingness of people to bathe regularly in Western Europe? Is it merely coincidence that during this period of human history the Muslim world, masters of their age in the science and art of the movement of water, were the dominant civilization of the era. When the barbarian (and rather dirty) hordes of Europe again took precedence in the progress of mankind, our species seemed to take a big step backward. The Victorian Era in both the new and the old world wasn’t much better when it came to sanitation or hygiene; and suffered from a variety of physical and psychological ailments as a consequence. And while some form of cleanliness took precedence in the Far East, it was the exception rather than the rule in what passed for civilization around the world.

No, give me the modern era with hot water showers and flush toilets any day. In fact, I would have say that I've come to appreciate almost every technological advance in the art and science on behalf of cleanliness with the possible exception of the bidet. While the theory of such a device indeed intrigues me, my lack of experience with their reality makes me just a little bit leery about them. No offense to anyone who swears by this specialized bit of plumbing, but how good can it really be if the French are the only ones who have taken it to heart? (It’s not like they are known for being the cleanest people on the planet.)


These, and other equally inane considerations were what was running through my mind as water ran over my body in completing my normal morning rituals. There is probably no real reason to go into any detail in this area, so I won’t. They were pretty much what one would expect in the way of simple hygiene and manners that were taught to me long ago by my parents, though I must say that the razor gave me a bit of a scare when I first saw it. It was one of those ones with the replaceable double-edged blades and I hadn’t even seen one since I was a kid, and placing what seemed to me to be a largely unprotected cutting surface against my throat gave me pause to reconsider my earlier disparaging comments on facial hair. I used it without drawing blood however, and this minor accomplishment gave a much needed boost to my morale that allowed me to retain some shred of dignity where my appearance was concerned.

When I returned to the bedroom, my clothes from the previous day were laid out on the bed. I had seen no one actually do the placing, but assumed that there were some form or servants that took care of such things. I later learned later that this was in fact not the case, which gave me slight pause; but that fact really adds nothing to the story at this point. I had placed them in a wicker hamper next to the door as instructed by the sign on the back of that door when I had left the room for the library the previous day. Now they seemed not only clean, but also well pressed (which I have to tell you was more than a little uncomfortable where the underwear were concerned). This minor discomfort notwithstanding, I was grateful for the service. I quickly put aside any thoughts of inconvenient chafing and dressed quickly. I was about to step out of the room (though I had no idea where I was going to go) when there was a knock on the door.

Are you decent?” a familiar sounding voice asked.

Yes,” I said, as the door began to open. “Decent, kind, and stark-naked.” 


Not particularly to my surprise, the door neither slowed nor hesitated one bit in its movement. It was Angela (whose voice I of course recognized), and she entered the room straight away without averting her eyes. I noticed that while she was still in a uniform, this one was of a soft gray color and looked a good deal less formal than the previous evening’s attire.

Have you no sense of decency?” I feigned, quickly reaching for the towel on the bed and clutching it in front of my fully dressed form

"Certainly none where you're concerned sir,” came the smiling reply, “but if you are done playing foolish games this morning, you might want to get breakfast while you can.  Then maybe you can begin to make yourself useful around here. There is, after all, a good deal of work to be done.”

Lead on my good lady,” I replied chastened, but not humbled. “Once more into the breach.”

We seemed to go down the same hall that we had come up to reach the room where the dinner had been held last night (not that I was sure of my way around yet), and I couldn’t help but notice that none of the paintings spoke to us as we passed them. Of course we weren’t speaking to them or even each other at the time. I wondered if tapestries, as well as paintings spoke? (I had seen some in the dining hall.) Maybe there were rules about this sort of thing that I had yet to fathom. Maybe these objects could only talk if someone were talking to or about them. Maybe only certain people could communicate with the Manor's decorations. Such a complete lack of understanding didn’t make it any of it all that much easier to deal with, but helped to kill the time in moving from point to point. I also took some comfort in the idea that there might be some rules somewhere about such things. With a little luck maybe I could get someone (perhaps even some female member of the military in particular) to take the time to explain these rules to me in great detail at some later date. Part of me yearned for a bit of enlightenment on this or any other subject; but most of me hoped that I could simply avoid dealing with it; as the explanation would probably be at least as confusing as dealing with the ignorance of its reality. 


While considering all of this I had not really been paying attention to the route that we had followed, and discovered that in spite of my distraction, we had arrived. We entered a door that opened itself, and I couldn’t help but notice that again, some of the doors around here opened of their own accord, and others did not. Like the wall hanging thing, I was sure that there were probably rules about this; but was again faced with the fact that they were rules that I didn’t understand. So what! I was already so confused by my current situation that finding one or two more things of which I was ignorant made little difference. I refused however, to be baited into seeking additional information now that I was certain that I could not comprehend and would not be able to retain later.

Looking at it as we passed, I somehow realized that I had not been through this latest door before, and the room we entered now was a simple one. It was of medium size, set up with a big rectangular table with a number of chairs that I didn’t bother to count placed around it. It reminded me of nothing more or less than a typical conference room. There was a separate table against the wall opposite that from which were coming. From it, came a number of most enticing smells; particularly those of a beverage that had to be something like coffee, surrounded by a number of things that smelled like sausage, bacon, and pastries; all set up in a buffet similar to that of last night. I didn’t see eggs (which was no great loss as far as I was concerned), but there were substitutes for both pancakes and French toast that I discovered were as good as they appeared when covered with what was used for syrup. 


Angela had passed by the table full of food and was talking to someone off on the other side of the room. I made my way through the buffet alone, piling a good bit of food on in the process. I am not normally a big breakfast eater, but last night had left me more than a little hungry, in spite of the late night snack that Angela had managed to obtain for me. Since I knew that I usually operated better when my stomach was full, I decided to take this opportunity to refuel for whatever might be coming. Taking my well-piled plate, I sat down at the most convenient empty seat (pretending not to be put out at being left alone) and began to do some serious damage to the plate in front of me. I can tend to be rather single minded when it comes to the process of eating, especially when not distracted by dining companions. With my head and attention down in my plate, I have to say that I never really noticed as other people began to assemble in the room.

When repletion began to replace hunger and I finally did begin to take notice of my surroundings, I discreetly began to categorize them as well. The mix of gender seemed mostly equal, though members of my own gender had a slight edge. A few them were in uniform, but most were not. A few of them were not eating (most of those being in uniform), but I couldn’t help but take note that the greater portion of them was partaking of the refreshments provided. As for those refreshments, the coffee-like drink tasted almost like a great New Orleans latte (without the foam), and I didn’t have to make much of an effort to make sure that my cup was refilled a couple of times by the quiet servers who were moving around the room (evidently there were no such things as magic refilling coffee cups) while I demolished the greater part of the meal that I had assembled. 


Continuing my ruse of being completely oblivious to my surroundings during this consumptive process, I was not now entirely wrapped up in filling my pie hole. I quickly noticed out of the corner of my eye when everyone jumped to feet, and quickly did so as well. Phillip and Lorelei entered the room with no apparent fanfare, with Arturo behind these two by not more than a pace. Phillip acknowledged the respect being shown him with a quiet nod, and took the seat at the center of the table with Lorelei to his right while Arturo found a corner close by and lay down without a sound. (It finally occurred to me that Lorelei was Phillip's consort, though no one had taken the time to inform me of such things. I mentally reviewed everything that I had said and done in her company, deciding that none of it could be considered a impolite, inconsiderate, or of a treasonable nature in any way; and breathed a sigh of relief.) I also thanked goodness for having taken a seat half way between that middle seat and one on the end, on the opposite or back side of the table away from the door. This unconscious decision on my part kept me fairly far away from the center of attention. The seat to my immediate right was empty at first, but Angela slid next to me as the last of the group seated themselves. I looked around for my friend from last night, Randall, but he was nowhere to be found. 'Interesting,' I thought.

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you all for coming,” Phillip began, with no preliminaries. “I think that we all realize that we have a difficult task and some equally difficult days ahead of us. We will need your help, patience, sweat, and maybe even a bit of blood before this is all over, but this is something at which we dare not fail for the sake of our people. I know that we don’t need to go into detail on all of this, but before we continue and for sake of those who have only recently joined us, let’s review the situation as it now stands. My father Simon passed away almost three months ago. Now, the mandated mourning period is about to pass, and as you all know, a new king must take his place. Randall, my father’s brother, would like his own son Christy on the throne.”


I guessed that would explain why he hadn’t been invited to the party this morning.

As you know, my cousin Christy is an idiot, a wastrel, a thief, and a scoundrel. In fact, one might safely say that Christy can only add to a room by leaving it (this with a smile). While the fact that he is being placed in line for the succession to the throne is unusual, it has never the less happened. We must now do everything we can to prevent him from gaining the power of that throne.

Many of us have already begun doing what could be done these past three months to begin the process to prevent his ascension, but now this effort begins in earnest. At our very moment of need however, we have additional help in our cause. Sean of America, an expert in this sort of thing in his own land (uh oh), has joined us in this endeavor. Please stand up Sean (I began to get a sinking feeling, but I rose from my chair none the less.) On the basis of excellent recommendation (uh oh again), Sean is thereby appointed as leader of this effort. Sean will wield the power in this matter to decide in all matters in my name. Lorelei and I have complete confidence in his judgment, and as such, I do not expect to have anyone coming to either of us to second-guess him. As you know, the formal period of the campaign will begin tomorrow. We therefore have ninety days before us to do what must be done. I'm sure that Sean will want to talk to many of you later, but you all must have duties to attend to now; so good luck to all of us.”

As he sat down, the group started to rise from the table with a rousing cheer of ‘God Save The King!’ and with no further comment, leave the room. As for me, I couldn’t move a muscle. To say that I felt gut shot for the second time in as many days would be an understatement. This was perfect, I thought! I don’t know where in the heck I am, or what I am doing; so naturally they want to put me in charge of a bunch of people who don’t know me from Adam. (This was some twisted corollary of 'the Peter Principle' on steroids, I felt sure.) And I couldn't help think that all of them now undoubtedly hated my guts even before they cleared the doorway.


It seemed as though I could feel air of resentment rising around me (or maybe it was just a stray piece of pancake attempting to move in the wrong direction in my throat). Thinking that I needed to do something (like leave the room and run for the hills) I finally started to get up out of the chair in a rather stunned fashion when Angela pulled me back down. Neither Phillip nor Lorelei had gotten up from the table, so I slumped back down like the condemned man, who upon completing a meal, finds that he has in fact eaten his last one. A combination of cowardice and terror kept me from raising my eyes as the door closed itself behind the last one out.

Sorry about that Sean,” he said, “but I’m not really sure of who I can trust outside of this room these days. I needed to do this in just this way to see how the rest would react, and I need to establish your authority as quickly as possible.”

Phillip, you don’t even know me,” I replied finally raising my head, and with I am sorry to say a touch of whining to my voice. “We met for the first time yesterday and then only briefly. As I remember it, the experience ended with me passing out cold from shock. This is not normally considered the type of behavior looked for in the resume of a leader, at least where I come from. I don’t really know what’s going on here except what I've learned from your all to brief explanation a minute ago, which means I know next to nothing.

Don’t get me wrong, you seem like a really nice guy and everything, and you have my sympathies on the passing of your father. I'm sure that you will probably make a great king and I wish you all the luck in the world, but I wouldn't know the first thing about how to help you become one. I also think that it would be foolish on your part to place the fate of your subjects in the hands of someone so unfamiliar with this place, and even more foolish on mine to accept such responsibility in light of my own ignorance. It's not fair to them, nor is it to me.” 


Perhaps you’re right,” he sighed, sinking slightly in his chair. “I knew it was a mad hope in the first place. Maybe I was just hoping that he knew what he was talking about when he sent you to us. Maybe my own deficiencies blinded me to any of those around me. Maybe what we hope to do here can’t be done after all. Some feeling I have inside of me however tells me that if you can’t do it, it can't and won’t be done.”

Funny how nobody ever seemed to call my despicable little British buddy by name, was the first thing that popped into my head. Come to think of it, I can’t say that I have ever heard his name mentioned in all the time that I have known him. Maybe it’s such a silly name that everyone avoids using it out of embarrassment. Maybe he doesn’t tell anybody what it is because he doesn't know it either or is ashamed of it. Maybe he doesn’t even have one.

The silence dragged on, as Phillip continued to hold a rather dejected posture; looking pale and perhaps even leaning a bit towards Lorelei in a subconscious bid for moral support. As for my neighbor, Angela seemed to be leaning decidedly away from me; her silence an accusation and her posture as stinging a rebuke as any I had ever witnessed. I felt like a ’Class A’ bastard.

Now anyone who knows anything about motivating people knows that there are two simple ways to motivate them. The first is by the offer of a reward generous enough to encourage loyalty on at least a temporary basis. The second involves appealing to the conscience that most of us have through the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) application of guilt to a person's better instincts. In spite of being 'negative motivational tool', guilt can indeed be a powerful motivator on a man (ask any woman or small child who has ever used it to get their own way). Using its application in the presence of member of the opposite sex as a inconspicuous challenge to manhood can make it particularly effective. There was little doubt that it was not only being applied expertly in this particular case, but that it was proving effective.


OK, I’m in,” I sighed reluctantly. “But only if somebody would please explain to me what the hell this is all about?”

What it was all about, as it turned out, was the way that the Macundans (so they were called) replaced a king when one had passed away, and this is how they explained it to me…

For as long as anybody had remembered, Macundo had had the same royal family from which to draw its kings from. During that same period, each of these kings had managed to produce two sons and two sons only.

Don’t expect me to be able to explain how that worked. I was probably as disbelieving of the whole thing as you are. This was however, a place where clothes cleaned themselves, certain doors opened and closed themselves, and pull chains and paintings talked (and that having been discovered in less than a day). Why shouldn't there be some unseen force that permits a sovereign only two male heirs?

For most of the country’s history, as the painting had pointed out in part to Lorelei and I on my first evening, the two brothers vying for the throne would assemble armies of followers upon the death of their father the king. Those armies would then face off at an agreed upon time and place, and fight a single pitched battle to decide which of them would take his father’s place as the nation’s ruler. The winner of this engagement then assumed the throne for the duration of his life. The process would then repeat itself in turn with that man’s heirs. The loser was not harmed in any way, and in fact became the ‘Grand Duke’ of Macundo, a ceremonial title with an allowance, but no rights of succession that made the job of Vice-President of the United States look like an important and useful position. 


The system had worked out well enough over time, and picking a ruler had been managed successfully over the years; but this somewhat barbaric process had over the years managed to kill off a fair number of rather valuable citizens. After the battle in which Phillip’s great-grandfather took the throne (again going back to the conversation with the talking painting), it was decided that a simpler, better, and hopefully non-violent method for the selection of future monarchs was required.

After years of discussion, and with the general approval of the citizens of Macundo (who after all had a great deal more to gain by it), the revised process was put into place with the death of that great-grandfather previously mentioned. Instead of making the choice by pitched battle, the choice between the two was to be made from that day forward by a process of acclimation. This was not to be a decision made by the previous king or their counselors, but by the people who the king was to rule, and whose blood would now no longer have to be spilled in the process.

Suffrage was universal for residents over the age of eighteen. The voting itself was done by means of a polling mechanism conducted in each of the cities, towns, and villages; and then announced to the people at large. The entire system seemed pretty straightforward and honest, but did have a rather strange twist to it. The electorate did not in fact vote for the person that they wanted to rule them, but rather against the person that they didn’t. 


Oh, sure the whole thing sounds patently ridiculous at first glance, though as monarchies go, it might have something in its favor when compared to “the Divine Right of Kings” (or the divinity of the rulers themselves) from our own world's history. Considering some of the forms of government and methods of voting that have been tried over the centuries, I didn't find what could be considered a unique adaptation of the two-party system troubling, especially when its violent predecessor was considered as an alternative.

Governments had always seemed like a good idea gone gone terribly wrong in my mind anyway. They have been, like Civilization, considered to be one of those things that separates Man from the other animals (The truth of the matter is that animals are far too smart to put up with either one of these counter-productive, anti-survival bits of lunacy.) At their best, both civilization and government should be considered little more than societal affectations devised to protect Man from his most dangerous enemy ... himself. Like Civilization, Government is always most successful when it's least intrusive and restrictive. More often however, it becomes ineffectual in this primary mission. While always seeming to start out with the best of intentions, whether a monarchy, dictatorship, oligarchy, theocracy, republic, or democracy, it always seems to devolve into a self-perpetuating bureaucracy of useless drones accumulating and hoarding power over a populace that's either too ignorant or complacent to realize what's gong on. Regardless of form, it can't seem to keep from evolving into something nefarious and overreaching; managing to completely confuse and subdue the populace that it governs.


Take the United States of America in the early part of the 21st Century. While as a form of government it's relatively young (just over 200 years old), it managed initially provide a very prosperous life for its citizens. (This prosperity of course, led to envy on the part of other peoples and governments, which soon developed into a considerable hatred on the world stage, but that’s another story.) As a consequence, those governed found in it an acceptable form of being governed (often called benign self-interest). Many of the inhabitants of the USA were therefore convinced that the American way of life should be a model of the human condition in general and the proper form of government in particular for darned near everyone. In self-righteous zealotry, the US therefore sought to encourage (or impose) this system on many others considered less fortunate; which in turn the increased the level hatred by those who wanted no help in creating governments (usually bad ones) of their own.

Of course they were both right and wrong, but not for the reasons that you might think. The truth of the matter is the USA was a suitable example of success for the rest of the world; mostly because of its citizens, who through a cultural streak of impenetrable independence chose to largely ignore the self-same government they had created. The beauty of the American system is in the fact that it is based on a morass of local, state, and national laws; most of which contradict each other as often and as completely as possible. While you might think that these contradictions would make the populace rise up in righteous outrage, in fact the confusion generated became perhaps the only protection left to citizens dealing with the natural encroachment of government. While a certain percentage of the population was kept generally docile (usually out of fear that they were violating one or more of these laws); enough stubborn perseverance remained to impede the gradual over-reaching that any government seeks to gain . 


So ignorant were citizens under its rule that they often praised themselves for being ruled by a ‘true democracy’ without even realizing that they do not live in one. The representative republic that they have in fact been ruled by has no desire to correct this misconception or remove any part of the delusion that protects it from those governed, lest such inquiry lead to the ugly truth of its operation. In fact, it spends millions of dollars every year seeking to promote and enhance this confusion, providing regular inconsequential experiences designed to make the governed genuinely believe that they are participating in the process. These exercises in futility, more commonly known as elections, allow the populace to make absolutely no difference in their way of life, while preserving the illusion that they have some sense of control.

Elaborate and contradictory rules also guide the process to select people to do jobs that are completely misunderstood by a significant majority of those participating in the selection process. Even the media, whose function in all of this is supposedly to act as a watchdog, becomes a willing co-conspirator in disinformation and an accomplice to producing the smokescreen that elected leaders hide behind. Inviting fools who put themselves forward as experts and analysts (terms describing people who know a lot about nothing) to comment on the process as it is going on, creating an analysis paralysis on the greater part of the citizenry, while simultaneously berating those who refuse to participate in the fixed game

The results of this farcical process are then carefully tabulated, endlessly disputed, and eventually accepted (except in the case of certain presidential elections). The results never seem to change anything, but by the time that the dust settles the governed are so sick of the entire process that they are willing to accept whatever outcome is declared so long as it means that the whole thing is over for a while. The government goes on, unchanged in form and function, and the governed are allowed to go back to picking the next celebrity of the week. (If you understand any of the above explanation, please feel free to visit your local radio or TV station to put your name is as an analyst or expert.)


The truth of the matter is that all governments still tend to be for sale to the highest bidder in any of these systems, and a game most effectively played by the rich. In the end, somebody has to get screwed (and the general populace seems to fit the job description). The only way to limit the amount of damage that any government can do to the populace is to make it so cumbersome that it can do little of anything. This also restricts the amount of good that it can do, but since governments can rarely agree on anything that does any real good for those governed, this is more than a fair trade-off.

As far as my own limited participation in the voting process was concerned, I have far too often voted for 'the lesser of two evils' in an election (a shameful practice in which far too many of us participate). Voting against the greater evil of the two seemed neither more absurd nor more fraudulent than any other way of deciding who should get a chance to make one's life miserable on a day-to-day basis.

Sorry about the long digression, but governments are one of those things in life that really tend to annoy me.

Recent history seemed to be willing to concede that Macundo's revised system, with some minor modifications over time, seemed to have worked relatively well. Though there was a certain reticence to give up the violence of the past at first (even here Man has some rather violent predilections), they had over time created a system that seemed to work for them as well as any system worked for any people. Until now that is.

Phillip’s father Simon had assumed the title when the populace had rejected his brother Randall (easy to see why based on my first impression of the man). Simon had in turn married, and produced the two historically required sons. Everything seemed to be going according to plan when one of the sons had disappeared under rather mysterious circumstances. Phillip’s older brother Arturo was missing, and had been for some years. In the election that was now about to take place, Phillip should have been competing for the crown against this older brother, with the worst man to lose. With his brother missing (and I would assumed presumed dead by this point), he couldn’t compete for the throne per the time-honored tradition. 


That uncontested situation didn’t seem to sit well with some of the population. Randall, rising up from years of impotence in the government, had stepped in again and demanded that his only son Christy be placed in the competition instead. It should have told someone that he was the wrong man for the job when he couldn’t produce the proper number of heirs; but I was quite frankly amazed, having met the man, that he could convince any woman to participate in the reproductive process once with him, let alone twice. Anyway, people being what they are when it comes to deciding anything really important (the greater percentage mostly unconcerned and the vocal minority aggressively ignorant), decided that it would be OK to do it this way as long as they could get on with the whole thing and get it over with. So there it was.

And so we come to the campaign and election process itself. To make matters more interesting for everyone, and so as to not drag the process out for an unseemly period of time, it had been determined somewhere during the origin of this process that this decision had to be made in the 90 days after the period of mourning for the dead king was over. That clock started ticking tomorrow. During this period, groups for the two candidates would spend this brief period making the other group’s candidate look as boring, dishonest, ignorant, and immoral as possible (taking those qualities in alphabetical order, but not limiting their number, scope, or depth). The people who did this work were known as a ‘Personal Attack Committee’ or a ‘PAC’ The name, and its similarity to politically active groups in my own time and place quietly amused me, both because of their similarities and the way that they appeared to operate. At least in this world however, they appeared to be honest about this purpose. I assumed that in this case, the name came from the bad old days of actual attack, but never asked. They were funded by the government in order to keep at least one part of the process ethical and went at it with a will. The mudslinging was done in a type of campaign that we would all be familiar with in the United States, though none of the candidates in our world would actually admit to any of this type of behavior. These activities would include things like: rallies, marches, posters, ads in mass media, public meetings, and speeches.


Amazingly, none of this was ever actually done by the candidates themselves, for such ungentlemanly behavior might reflect poorly on a potential monarch, and cost them the office that they were seeking. In fact, the two candidates themselves usually went into a 90-day period of hiding so as not to commit any boring, ignorant, dishonest, or immoral acts that could be noticed and used against them during this period. (Would that we could our own political candidates to consider a similar practice.) Historically, these contests often got messy, even when the two brothers were good friends and not, as it was in this case, with cousins from two families that detested each other. The only good thing that could be said about the entire process was that it was brief and occurred infrequently, owing to a long life expectancy in the kings of Macundo.

When I asked whom I could use and to what extent in this effort, I was told that our PAC against Christy and Randall had been formed during the mourning period. As I and everyone else had seen in the meeting, I was to direct the efforts as best I could. As to whom else I could use, anyone was allowed to participate in a PAC, even the military (unlike the US). This was because here military positions were largely ceremonial, functioning in a world that had almost entirely managed to do away with war. The best and brightest of common society could and usually were singled out by military appointment. This would put them in a higher social standing to participate in advising the government without a title by birth. Everyone in this form of military was an officer, and the typical hierarchy of officers that I was familiar with held true here as well. There were no other soldiers to speak of in Macundo as they had no foreign enemies, and the last internal battle hadn’t been fought in anyone’s living memory. That was not to say that violence was still not a part of society, it was. The normal amount of mischief and mayhem, from bar fights to armed robbery and murder was a still very much a part of this culture; and was dealt with by a national constabulary. In addition, dueling was as popular in this world’s present as it once was in our past, with most of the same strict rules. 


OK, that took care of the process, now how about a little information on Christy, and his scarecrow of a father. It appears that bad blood has or had been brewing since well before Randall’s loss to Phillip’s father in the election. Randall was the eldest, and had felt somehow that the title had been his right and due since soon after birth. The disappointment in his loss only added to the misery that was his normal state of existence. As for his appearance and demeanor, they seemed to be a merely a manifestation of his personality and propensities. In other words, Randall was even meaner and uglier than he looked like in person and was more than twice as devious. Added to this was fact that his entire life pissed him off..

The story was that the campaign that was run against Simon was a tale of a campaign as nasty and vicious as anyone had seen since these things had evolved. Beyond the usual name-calling and mild slander, Randall’s group had tried everything from fire bombing Simon’s PAC headquarters, to murdering several of his PAC workers, including the head of his PAC. When this last had happened, in fact, the bastards had even managed to see that Simon was accused of the crime and brought to trial. The true killers had never been discovered, and the case against Simon had been dropped from a lack of evidence; but it had forced Simon out of hiding to face an arrest and indictment for the crimes. The subsequent turmoil in Simon’s PAC during the trial had made the election much closer than it should have been considering his opponent. In the end, no one could really believe that Simon was guilty of anything, but the even with acquittal, the charge remained. Neither was anything proved against Randall, though many things pointed in his direction. He maintained an air of innocence and his alibi at the time was solid.


Randall’s current personal habits were less clear. He had no real standing in the current government, but lived on a government stipend since he was not allowed to hold any other position in government or business. He was often invited to state occasions like last night’s by Simon and most recently Phillip, as any close family member should be; though it could never have been said that he was particularly welcome. He was treated with politeness, but no real affection, and this appeared to have no effect on his willingness to attend. These state occasions were the only time he was normally seen in public, and he never missed one of them. He had a house and estate of some substance that the government provided about ten miles out on the other side of Macundo’s capital of Minica. Randall seemed to spend most of his days locked behind the walls of this property, and if he was guilty of any plots or plans against the government, it was not readily apparent.

His son Christy on the other hand, was seen quite frequently around town. He often toured the pubs and restaurants of Minica, and was well known there. Where Randall’s appearance was painfully thin, Christy was at the opposite end of the scale both literally and figuratively. His bouts of prodigious eating and drinking were something of a legend, though it did not appear that he shared his father’s metabolism. His size was formidable, and his manners marginal. He was often fond of stopping in a number of eating and drinking establishments in the same evening. He was also known to be a miserable customer to serve and a particularly poor tipper. (I had never met him, but didn’t like the bastard already!) Though also on a not ungenerous government stipend, Christy was rumored to be rather deeply in debt with some of the local shopkeepers and restaurateurs, and managed to keep his creditors at bay only through a combination of intimidation and perhaps even force.

Where do you want to start Sean?” Phillip asked, when he had finished my short history lesson.

I think, that if I can convince the lovely lady at my side to join me, that an evening on the town is called for.”

I don’t think that pursuing some vain and impossible romantic interest in me is any …” came an indignant reply from my side.

My good lady,” I interrupted. “As much enjoyment as I would hope to gain from any romantic pursuit of you, vain and impossible as it might seem, I assure you that this evening is strictly business. I need to get some kind of impression of the people of this place, and how they feel about Phillip and his cousin. With your help and a little luck, it's also my hope to run into our friend Christy. Since this is the last night before the campaign begins, and I assume that he will be going into hiding as you candidates do, this will probably be my last chance to get a read on this guy before he disappears.”

Fine,” she said, and I knew that I was in trouble.

No woman in any world used the world ‘fine’ unless she meant exactly the opposite. I don’t know what I had done this time, but it was obvious that whatever it was, it was the wrong thing. I figured it was either disappointment in the unromantic nature of my response, or anger that I might have been attempting one. (See, I was right. My understanding of women will never rise above the level of rank amateur.) As for whether I was actually attempting to pursue some kind of romantic interest, quite frankly I hadn't a clue myself. 


Oh sure the whole flirting thing had been kind of fun up until now, though I certainly hadn't taken or even had the time to decide whether there might be anything there or not. That this flirting had been going on with Angela almost since the moment I had met her is also true, but it had become so natural that it just seemed to have become the way that we spoke to each other. As you might have guessed from some of my previous statements, my luck with women was not all that I might have hoped it would be. I could tell myself that the job I had made it particularly difficult for such things to occur. I could say that the strange things that seemed to keep happening in my life preventing such situations from being any significant part of it. I could say that having reached a certain age that I was wary of forming attachments for fear of the pain, or because I was pretty set in my ways. All of this might even be true, at least on a subconscious level. The real reason probably fell into two parts:

  1. I didn't (and don't) feel that I have anything about myself either physically or mentally that I feel is particularly attractive ... and
  2. Even if I did have something that was attractive to a given woman about me, I doubt that I would be capable of recognizing the fact that someone was attracted to me unless they clubbed me over the head with the notion.

This was a very attractive women who could obviously have her pick of the litter around here. There was no reason for her therefore, to waste her time with the likes of me. I was therefore not surprised with the tone of her answer, even if it did bruise my already flagging ego.

Since that is our goal, I will be pleased to join you this evening,” she said rather formally, having dialed the temperature down in the room considerably.

Me too,” I heard from her feet, and noticed for the first time that Arturo had joined us from his corner. “I haven’t been out in ages.”

Great,” I mumbled. “A night on the town with an irritable female soldier and a four-footed chaperon. Ow!” The punch that I received in the arm made me believe that I hadn’t mumbled low enough, and the barking laugh that followed convinced me.


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