The Cube - Chapter 12 - Continued

Mutt strapped himself into the funicular and waited for the cable to yank him sunward counterbalanced by an identical car on the opposite side descending from the summit, the two to pass halfway. His escorts lingered in the plaza content to allow him his moment of Hutman idolatry. A section of the Stairway shone fresh with sandstone replacing damage from bombs lobbed allegedly by Inta nationalists in farming communities along the Leland edge. From the funicular he had an unobstructed view of the massive People’s Hall and its fanning colonnade. From the far left entablature, six columns radiated downward from a single point to six bases along the front portico. From a single point to the bottom right of these six columns, an inverted fan of six columns spread upward to rejoin the entablature. This pattern of twelve columns, six fanning up and six down, was repeated symmetrically on the far side, leaving as a gap the grand triangle of the entrance leading into the chamber of the People’s Assembly above which the Dome of Skillian, named for its architect, rose heavenward to defy the angels with the glory of man. The cup of the Dome held a pool of upwater from the Silent Sea filled with luminous algae from which a sparkling fountain jetted downward into the Assembly before falling back into the pool. Hutman slaves, under the whips of Inta overlords, constructed the Hall three centuries earlier using sidematter composites to minimize structural loads. The magnificent building had changed hands with all revolutions since, new rulers content to claim it as a symbol of power rather than destroy it.

By twisting in his funicular seat he obtained a partial view of the more modern Regency located on the far side of the plaza on the site of the original palisade, built as an Inta palace by the prior regime and rechristened by Muglair as the seat of his executive power as humble regent of the cause. The Regency emerged like a triangular house of cards from a mound of steps circling its perimeter, with three immense triangular longhouses situated side by side on a bottom row topped with two longhouses side by side spanning the tips of the first row all crowned by a single longhouse at the apex, with the three empty inverted triangles formed by the gaps in the houses each containing a reflecting tube focusing the permanent rays of the sun on an eternal flame on a pedestal in the plaza. Like the Hall and the Stairway, construction of the Regency was a delicate balancing trick made possible only by liberal use of sidematter composites.

By the time he reached the shrine Mutt was lightheaded and acrophobic. He had never before feared heights but the combination of the precipitous ascent and ongoing conversion nausea made him fearful of stumbling over a railing. He was not prepared emotionally for the brutal images at the summit. One of Muglair’s first acts as leader was to rededicate the ancient sun temple as a shrine to the martyrs with a sculpture garden featuring the spiked leaders of the cause. In the center of the shrine, surrounded by beds of goldenrod and maidenhair, two gleaming spikes soared into the blinding Skavian sun impaling the naked bodies of his birth parents, Outin and Paxa, writhing in agony so lithe and contorted it seemed sexual, yielding their spirits to heaven so the cause could live on. One could almost detect motion in these lifeless forms of butter rock with muscles twitching, eyes flitting, fingers curling in futile defiance against the Inta, against life, against God. He averted his eyes from their nakedness then found himself staring directly into the source of his being, wondering whether he was an Ogga or a child of these martyrs. He felt strangely disconnected from his natural parents perhaps because these were just statues, or because he could not reject the parents who so lovingly raised him in Arland, or because he never grasped the passions that drove the martyrs to revolution. He looked upon his birth father and dreamed one day of reuniting with his adoptive father, that generous and nurturing soul on whom he patterned his life, not aware of the toxic death he met with Donega on the road from Shivaree. He gazed upon Paxa believing her murder a greater evil, as if men were fair game in political struggle but women should be spared regardless of offense according to a law of nature. To kill a woman was to desecrate natural beauty, a perversion of the masculine duty to protect. He removed from a vest pocket a flask of spirits borrowed from the minder, wet his fingers, and flung drops across the base of the spikes as an offering to their spirits. Were they in the higher planes watching over their son as he visited the Hutman capital? Did they regret the lost opportunity to raise him, to be his parents? He wondered if the voice he heard on the island were Paxa’s, if she had called him here to commune with her spirit. In the bright sun he felt a darkness about the world as if the only truths in life were murder and loss, the brutal deaths of his parents on the spikes and the loss of his wife and daughter to the Skavian war machine, as if all goodness were illusion and the only reality death. In this moment of despair he would have made an excellent subject for Bogin’s truth artists.

He steadied himself on a rail of the shrine and gazed toward the Edge, the horizon stopping abruptly with the country of his youth over the fold. Somewhere along that Edge was his meeting spot with Ivy, a verdant paradise filled with dogwoods and poppies, and beyond that the village green of Shivaree and his parents’ spread. He was confident his family was prospering in his childhood home that very moment, Ruggin returned from the salient to tell stories of heroism and horror, Sabin with her children running loose in the yard pulling dogs’ tails, Donega laughing at crude jokes with her new boyfriend, probably a farmhand, all unwrapping foil packets of goat meat and peppers around the family table, Mira sadly pondering the fate of her lost son Mutt, Dox solemnly invoking his name in grace before the meal. In his sorrow his mind played tricks on him, imagining shapes emerging from the clouds and moving rapidly across the sky, hearing piercing wails waft upward from the plaza. Suddenly he noticed the pilgrims on the shrine had disappeared, racing down the stairs in great commotion or crammed onto a funicular just departing. Pixies swirled about his head and he became nauseous. He lifted his eyes again and shapes still sped across the sky. He perked up his ears and knew now he was hearing air raid sirens. He was not hallucinating. Arland was attacking. A terrible thought crossed his mind. Did the spirit of Paxa, jealous of his love for Mira, lure him to the shrine to kill him? He could not be in a more vulnerable position than on the Stairway to the Sun over the great sandstone plaza, the heart of power in Skava and a natural target for enemy fire. He could not escape; the stairs were too steep for his gravity and the funicular had stopped. So he spread his arms across the railing and slipped into an alternative reality, an out of body experience in which he could witness his own destruction without fear.

A huge fusillade of remote controlled orbs rose from the plains west of Leri Deri aimed by their ground operators at the destroyer vanguard of the Arland assault. Streams of water spewed from the fusillade as operators opened sidewater tanks to change direction. The orbs were not precise but spread like buckshot hitting several destroyers, dislodging chunks of metal with fierce explosions, splitting one ship along its main seam sending half hurtling to outer space and the other half to the ground. He scanned the horizon and saw a larger fleet approaching from the Leland edge, converging with the western fleet on the capitol complex. Behind the vanguard of the northern fleet a formation of six ballast ships bore down on the city through its softer northern flank protected by enormous floating shields. A Skavian suicide squadron took aim at the formation through gaps in the shields. In a magnificent collision three bombers converged on a single ballast ship simultaneously and detonated, sending fragments of metal and jets of sidewater flying in all directions. The remaining ships of the fleet let loose a rain of ordnance on the next wave of attackers, perforating their light skins with timed penetrators and exploding them from within, killing crews and hobbling vessels. Multiple waves of suicide attacks emerged from the forests trained on the ballast formation approaching from the north. Muglair had planned for this line of assault for years and would teach Arland a lesson. Attackers slipped through the shields and rammed into the walls of the massive ships, each the size of a coliseum, exploding segments of their frames and puncturing tanks of sidewater necessary for navigation. The intense counterattack disabled two more ballast ships but the remaining three closed in on the plaza rapidly. Mutt watched transfixed as the shields gracefully parted beneath the ships to give them a direct shot at the plaza. On the edge of center city, a wall of fire shot heavenward baking the northern intruders in flame just as they prepared to launch their payloads. At the same time a barrage of uprock assemblies connected by chains launched skyward to wrap around fins and turrets of the ships, upsetting their buoyancy on the delicate approach.

From the direction of the Hall he heard an enormous racket of metal gears and turned to witness an unexpected sight, a larger contingent of the Armada dropping beneath the clouds above the Dome and pointing directly at the martyrs’ shrine, having overshot the capital to reverse course and approach from the direction of Bivenal. The three attack lines from the west, north, and now east all had a single goal, not the Stairway to the Sun or the People’s Hall, but the residence of the Great Man, the Regency. The gigantic ships hovering over the Hall opened their mouths like mutant looper fish and rolled out dozens of house-sized bombs toward the plaza. Mutt thought he would certainly die, that the entire complex would be leveled in a quake of fire, that at a minimum the Stairway would be severed from its anchors and he would experience the solar voyage of Hutman prophecy. The rollers landed on the plaza past the center green, churning up chunks of sandstone and bouncing upward directly into the Regency where they were designed to detonate upon side impact. He could not witness the explosions from his position directly over the structure but felt blast waves rising and was soon enveloped in a column of light dust. He had not noticed but at the same moment the surviving two ballast ships from the north dropped ordnance on a direct line into the Regency. The attacks from the direction of Arland were knocked off line by the intense counteroffensive and forced to train their weaponry on the city’s defensive perimeter without contributing directly to the assault on the Regency. The larger fleet over the Hall launched a second wave of rollers, one of them striking the Stairway halfway up and severing one of the massive chains, sending a violent shock wave to the summit and destabilizing the entire structure. Mutt was knocked to the floor of the shrine at the feet of Yarly and Prudence, their spikes swaying from the chaotic whipping of the summit. Upmatter chunks of the Regency separated from their composites by the explosions crashed into the underside of the shrine as a thick cloud of foul dust spilled over the railings and choked him. After a third wave of rollers tumbled across the plaza, the larger fleet dumped downwater on the Hall and ascended beyond the reach of Skavian land defenses. Suicide squads continued to inflict damage chasing the ships into the clouds but Arland had sent its message. The Regency was destroyed, its foundation a smoking crater surrounded by a mound of crumbled steps, and the Great Man was officially homeless.

The attack took less than thirty minutes but Mutt remained trapped on the summit for hours waiting for the dust and smoke to clear. He breathed through a sleeve to filter the noxious air but felt a coat of slime building in his lungs. He was alone except for the statues of his parents, his wife’s parents, and their murdered comrades. He wondered what Yarly and Prudence would think of him, this man who married their daughter and now lay collapsed on the floor of their shrine unable to protect their child and grandchild. Would they regret her choice of mate? When the air cleared and his strength returned, he surveyed his options for the trip down. There was only one. He would have to cling to the railing and descend the steps on a near vertical line. Gravity would quicken the descent; the trick would be keeping the descent from degenerating into free fall. He chose the less damaged side of the Stairway, cupped his hands on the rail, and let himself down hand over fist, stuffing himself between the legs of side benches for an occasional rest. Halfway down he encountered the bomb damage where several platforms were shattered down to their reinforcing rods and the far chain was severed, above which the Stairway pivoted loosely on the remaining chain. A body lay on the steps, flesh and clothes so mangled he could not tell the gender, blood still trickling from open wounds. At the base of the Stairway he searched for his escorts but they had long fled. The army had secured the plaza and swiftly accosted him, suspicious of his sloped posture but eventually accepting his plea for access to the street to return to headquarters. He could escape now from Interior but where would he go? He would be less safe as a fugitive with angled gravity than as a captive of Skava, so he returned to the security foyer of headquarters and talked his way past the guards to his guest room. The windows of the room were blown out by sidematter debris from the destruction of the Regency with sharp chunks of masonry and reinforcing metal lodged into his bed and along the wall, and stuffing from his pillow scattered across the covers from the puncturing of a tie rod. The underside of the shrine had protected him from shattered fragments but had he been in the guest room his body would have been a pin cushion. Of all the ways he could have perished in Skava he had not imagined sharpened mortar and metal flying through the guest room window and piercing his reclining body on the bed. Ivy’s satchel lay on the floor with a shard of glass poking from its leather exterior next to the dusty imprint of a brick which was now lodged in a dent on the wall. He removed the glass as if from living flesh then lay on the bed clasping the satchel in desolation. It was all he had left.


Mutt pestered the minder daily for updates on the status of his family. The answers were always the same. The transfer request had been made and would be processed in due course. Eventually he asked him to close the door and sit at the table.

“You must level with me. Why are they not arriving?”

The minder hesitated. “Your friend has a history.”

“She is my wife, do you know that?”

“Your marriage is not recognized in Skava.”

“It has been consummated with a child.”

“She will be released when the investigation is complete.”

“Then bring me the child.”

“We do not separate mothers and children. They are together in a safe house. You must be patient.”

“How can I expedite the process?”

The minder again hesitated. “You will be questioned yourself.”

Mutt stood up, his gravity now only a sixth slope, and fanned out several sheets of The Sphere.

“My work has been a boon to the Party. Will loyalty not be rewarded?”

“If you are loyal to the Party you will forget about your wife. You cannot serve both family and the cause.” He was repeating a Party slogan.

Mutt paced around the room agitated. This functionary had no power. The decisions affecting his wife were made by more important men.

“I am a guest, am I not?”

“You are.”

“And is not the Hutman known for his hospitality?”

“He is.”

“And is there a greater hospitality than the comfort of a wife?”

The minder looked at him directly. “Sir, you do not need a particular woman for that comfort. We can accommodate your needs.”

Mutt could not decide if the minder used “sir” in its respectful or derisive sense.

“I wish to attend a Party session,” he changed tack. He often had ideas for no discernible reason.

The minder looked at him confused.

“As an honored guest,” he added. It occurred to him if he met more powerful men, perhaps he could obtain results.

“I will see what I can do.”

Mutt continued to slant The Sphere in favor of Skavian propaganda, emphasizing the unfairness of the embargo on nabana peels, lamenting the heroic need of the oppressed to fight such abuse, imagining a harmonious future with no hegemonic power. He inquired about his wife and daughter regularly but was told only to await interrogation. Agents of Interior would soon debrief him in the lower levels of headquarters after they finished questioning his wife. He wondered what the minder meant by debrief and remembered the horrific report he read in the Notches about Bogin’s methods of information extraction. Would they toss him in the glass house? Would they bind him in a turning box? Did such contraptions even exist? He searched his mind and realized he did not care what fate he met. He was not going to live in fear of goons. If Skava chose to execute him it would end the slow death he was already suffering from loneliness. The only regret he might have in dying would be losing the chance of reunion, with Ivy and Hope, and with his family in Shivaree. He was doubly disconnected and doubly homesick, longing to see friendly faces happy to see him, not the grim expressions staring at him everywhere in Leri Deri. He had never been so detached from the world and all his pitiful needs for security and family were coming to the fore. He was reaching the conclusion he would never see any of them again, that the paths they were all on were dead ends, that the forces governing the world had ordained their permanent scattering. If the goons did kill him he hoped they would at least tell him what Ivy had done in Harmour. Did she kill her parents? He had come to accept she murdered them on the day she leapt into his arms but he was convinced with good reason. However bizarre she behaved she had always been a loving and nurturing person in their marriage. She had done what she must to escape the evil, and the Morvens were part of that evil.

As the days wore on he achieved normal gravity and could walk about the room with ease. The door locked from the outside but he rigged it behind the minder’s back so he could sneak into the hallway unattended for longer excursions. It was impossible to leave the floor due to security stations and elevator codes but he enjoyed the expanded range. The minder arrived one day excited to inform him that Kadangle himself had extended an invitation to the young author to attend the next executive session. Mutt would have an opportunity to meet the Great Man along with the Ministers and upper echelons of the Party, which now convened in a bunker of the People’s Hall pending reconstruction of the Regency.

He received daily editions of The Cause and was shocked at Arland’s belligerence. Had they really destroyed the Regency in response to an unconditional offer from Muglair to cap the Flume? Were they really murdering Skavian prisoners of war and dumping their mutilated bodies over the Edge? Did they really sluice the Parvian edge to drain the Silent Sea below the intake level of the electric stations in Bivens Mill, which Skava had restarted after the damage to Shamba? He knew better than to trust Skavian propaganda yet the relentless barrage of words sewed doubt in his mind about his home country. One day he hit a wall reworking Ivy’s draft of an installment of the Sphere. Huston and Posy were rediscovering their love after Huston fought off a band of nighttime marauders with a combination chainsaw blowtorch. The scene was too bloody and absurd for his taste. How could one man with both arms in casts dismember and incinerate twelve army irregulars? He flipped the original draft over to spare his eyes further strain and saw on the back a list of facts and figures. When he originally transcribed Ivy’s drafts in the administrative tent he thought he was using only blank sides of papers filled with meaningless numbers. But these facts and figures were anything but meaningless. With alarm he realized he had stumbled upon a record of Ivy’s most mysterious secrets. He flipped over all the transcribed drafts and retrieved additional papers from the hidden compartment of the satchel finding more pages containing strange lists. The words made him extremely uncomfortable as if he were tasting forbidden fruit, for they were further proof of the fundamental irrationality of Ivy’s world. These were prophecies, statements about the future, and they had been coming true since she first wrote them, since he snatched the satchel from her hands in the transport, and he was convinced would keep coming true tomorrow and the next day. After a few lines he stopped reading because he was afraid of his wife’s world, of her strange and unfathomable gift of seeing. But the gears in his head were whirring. However Ivy had learned her secrets, surely he could put them to good use.

One day ominous shadows passed along the streets and he looked up to see an Arland attack fleet hovering in the western sky. He waited for evacuation of his floor to a bomb shelter but no one came and no sirens sounded. Through the window he witnessed the Armada unleash a vicious assault across the capital, much larger than the previous attack, devastating residential boroughs outside center city. Ballast ships dropped enormous volleys of ordnance on defenseless civilians while releasing upwater from pressurized tanks through blow holes in magnificent eruptions necessary to maintain buoyancy. He expected the People’s Hall to be demolished and perhaps headquarters but Arland was content to strike less defended positions outside the inner perimeter. He could view only a small portion of the attack through his window but knew from the voluminous plumes of smoke drifting across his field of vision that huge swaths of the boroughs lay in ruins. The purpose of the raid was to demoralize the population by killing as many innocents as possible, not to strike military targets. The war had reached the point where killing was its own end, all other goals being frustrated. He could not appreciate the scale of destruction from his limited perspective in the guest room until the plaza became a triage center. Hundreds and then thousands of the wounded and dying, carted in from the boroughs in a desperate search for organized relief, were laid on sheets while loved ones frantically sought attention from a handful of harried civilian doctors. The scene was too far removed for Mutt to make out individual faces and the tragedy of each casualty was blunted by the scope of the historic event. The carnage reduced human bodies to the aesthetics of the slaughterhouse, the intentional deaths of thousands less evocative than the loss of one finger by one person in a freak accident, stark proof that people were no more dignified in mass death than animals butchered for holiday feasts.

No attendants visited the guest room for over a day as Mutt emptied his food basket. He watched through the window, his stomach growling with intense pangs, as bodies were cleared from the plaza into hospitals and morgues, and as an enormous crowd began gathering before the steps of the People’s Hall awaiting the trumpeted alarum of the leader. He knew from a special edition of The Cause that Muglair would deliver a speech condemning Arland’s cowardly attack and outlining Skava’s military and diplomatic response. The comments in the paper were elliptical but it appeared Muglair might announce a new policy toward the Skavian Inta, whom he blamed for enabling the attack. They were Arland spies, every last one of them, passing along valuable military secrets to the enemy and marking bombing sites with signal flares, and the Hutman could not be safe in his own country until this threat was neutralized by whatever means necessary. The tone of the paper suggested Muglair might slaughter them in retaliation for espionage but Mutt was later relieved to learn that the plan involved only forced emigration to Arland, which might actually improve their lot given their daily misery under the policies of the Great Man.

On the day of his visit to the Party session Mutt stood before a mirror in the guest room and slapped his face repeatedly. He had fallen into such a funk in the cramped space that he doubted his ability to mingle with a crowd of dignitaries. He was led by the minder across the great sandstone plaza through the triangular entrance of the Hall, into the well of the assembly beneath the Skillian Dome and its luminous pool and fountain, and to a grand staircase descending to a security lobby for the bunker levels. They were invited to sit at a table with Minister Kadangle in a windowless conference room with a low drop ceiling and utilitarian lighting, giving more the impression of middle management than the highest powers of the nation. The executive sessions were attended by the Council, Assembly leaders, and regional Party leaders, each submitting a written statement of activity in their domains with reports delivered orally by the Ministers and the Great Man. Upon Muglair’s entrance with his security detail the entire gathering stood in unison and saluted with outstretched fists, an electric moment that quickly subsided as the Party chair took a podium and dryly announced the sequence of presentations. The sessions were not true political events at which executive decisions were debated but rather staged proceedings where fealty to the Great Man could be demonstrated and preconceived directives tossed out for acclamation. Mutt tried to strike up a conversation with Kadangle but the Minister was disinterested in this inconsequential author. Sure he had a following among the Party base but he was here merely for the novelty of putting a face on the purveyor of so much smut. If the Minister had bothered to converse with the young man he might have learned an important secret. Mutt tried to rest a foot on a leg underneath the table and in the process punctured his knee on an exposed nail, drawing blood and sending a rush of pain up his spine. He grew angry from this indignity and was still smoldering when the chairman announced the honored guest from the Notches, Tom Weathers, author of The Sphere, and a friend of the Party who shared its vision of a world free of conflict and hegemonic powers. Still pumped on adrenaline he stood up, bowed politely while scanning the room, then unexpectedly walked to the podium before the minder could stop him. The chairman assumed he was speaking with permission of his Minister host and stepped aside.

“Friends, thank you for this opportunity to read.”

He pulled the latest draft of The Sphere from a vest pocket. His minder stepped to the dais at the urging of Kadangle and tugged on his elbow.

“I’m sorry, did I misunderstand the invitation?”

The Great Man, seated at a table directly before the podium, smiled at the confusion and waved his hand at the minder, motioning him away so the author could speak.

“Thank you,” Mutt said directly to Muglair, pulling glasses from his pocket with the lenses removed, before launching into an impassioned reading of the latest installment. He had spent some time formulating a story line free of scandal calculated to appeal to Party leaders. His initial plan had been to submit the draft for publication in The Cause that day but due to a counting error it was now scheduled for the following edition, making it fresh news for the session. And fresh news it was, for here was the long awaited marriage of Huston and Posy, preceded by a dramatic relinquishment of nabana rights by the dominant power in recognition of the demand of natural justice that all persons share equally in nature’s bounty, and once obtained their divisions could be healed and lovers of the differing communities united in marriage under the joyous eyes of their brothers and sisters without regard to ethnic difference. Mutt loved nothing more than hamming it up before an audience and brought himself to tears with the rapturous scene, not sure what effect his passion might have on the audience and not caring. But when finished the Great Man himself, appreciating a diversion from the drudgery of pro forma Party work and alert to the propaganda value of the story, stood from his chair, his acolytes waiting for his reaction, and clapped slowly, increasing the pace as the assembled dignitaries joined in.

“Now, young man,” Muglair instructed, “I should like to learn of Posy’s great secret.” He knew from Kadangle that Ivy Morven was co-author of The Sphere, and he knew of her connection to Tobor Zranga. And Zranga had spoken in similar terms of a great secret, using the leverage to treasonous effect.

“Kind sir,” Mutt replied, taken aback by the question, “some secrets must await formal publication.” He paused. “But I shall tell you in private.” Mutt had a plan, and it was playing out far better than he could have anticipated.

The final speaker at the session was the Great Man himself. He gripped the podium and surveyed the room. “Friends, you are all servants of the cause, you have all been tested in your faith, and you will all be tested in the coming days and weeks with a propaganda campaign from Arland unprecedented in history. Let any who have doubt as to the righteousness of our path stand today and be counted, and I will discharge you of your sacred duty and personally guarantee your safety in retirement.” He scanned the room for faces of dissent. “Do I hear no doubt?” Scattered voices throughout the room shouted no. “Are we all loyal servants of the cause?” The room erupted in a series of “ayes” each designed to drown out the others. “Do we know the meaning of harsh measures?” A new volley of “ayes” ensued, each comfortable in his own knowledge of the term. “What we will be accused of will be vile, murderous,” he paused, drawing out the ending of his sentence, “and necessary.” He now spoke in a soft monotone, his voice projecting deep sadness. “I shall take upon my shoulders responsibility for the actions of the Hutman in this historical moment. Let no man ever say that when his very existence was questioned, the Hutman flinched. We are each dispensable,” he glanced menacingly at Kadangle, “and we each have a role. And my role is this. When the Hutman is threatened, the threat will be destroyed. When the cause is questioned, I will eliminate the questioner. When the course of history is challenged, I will redouble my efforts until victory is achieved. Let any who place personal survival ahead of the cause be warned. I know there are traitors among you, traitors in this very room, and I am watching your every move. An organism cannot thrive at the mercy of parasites and who among you will defend a parasite?” He ran down the list of Ministers and Party leaders, inquiring as to their personal devotion to the cause, and their willingness to lay down their lives should history require it. “In the near future you will each be called upon to take heroic measures in defense of the Hutman. You will each be called upon to play a role in destruction of our enemies. And you may each be required to sacrifice your life for the greater good. If you do not have the stomach for this historic mission, stand now and leave, and I will protect you. But if you choose to stay and are found wanting, I will not protect you.” The room fell completely silent, no one wanting to attract attention, as he proceeded to rattle off facts and figures about various Party initiatives.

At the conclusion of the session Mutt was led by security agents to the makeshift chamber of the Great Man, hastily constructed after destruction of the Regency. The office was low hung like the conference room, windowless and pallid, its bland atmosphere severely detracting from the majesty of its occupant. Muglair Putie sat behind a modest desk in a swivel chair, his chief aide and Bogin by his side, security agents guarding the door. He was a diminutive man, shorter than Mutt by half a head with a bulbous forehead and one eyebrow permanently arched. He had a list of meetings planned for the day, his preferred method of control being intimidation through one-on-one meetings, but he would back up his appointments for the author. Mutt could not get a read on this historic figure who had caused so much grief in the world. He was quite gracious and personable, yet his eyes were hollow and a grim sadistic humor lurked behind his lips. Mutt could easily imagine this man reviewing torture photographs with glee, Bogin rubbing his hands in delight at his side. He was unshaved and unkempt, the pressures of the war taking its toll, and presented as a less sturdy man than the Party stalwarts in the conference room, slight from nervous exhaustion with a frame that might blow away in a breeze. What distinguished him from his colleagues in the Party was the conviction of his oratory, which was not on full display in executive sessions but found voice before masses on the great sandstone plaza, with veins bulging and eyes crazed, as he gave vent to the one driving force in his life, hatred of Arland. No one knew better the unifying power of anger than the Great Man, of finding and destroying enemies in the name of the common weal. Today Mutt was seeing his scheming side, the consummate plotter, setting aside time from his agenda to gain information on his rival Tobor Zranga, the one traitor he could not execute for fear of retribution.

The Great Man extended his hand and Mutt heartily shook it.

“It is my honor to receive such a distinguished guest,” Muglair said congenially.

“I would like to meet alone,” Mutt replied, still smarting from the injury to his knee.

The agents approached and grabbed his arms.

“I have no weapon. I have only a piece of paper.” He had been frisked intensely in the antechamber.

An agent tugged at the paper but Mutt would not release his grip.

“It is for the leader’s eyes alone.”

“Very well,” said Muglair. “You are discharged.”

The agents exited the chamber and took their station outside the door. Mutt pointed to Bogin and the aide who were dismissed as well.

“How may you be so bold as to seek my audience on your terms?” the Great Man inquired.

Mutt laid the piece of paper on the desk before him. Muglair read it, growing alarmed:

You lost a testicle in a bicycle accident when you were eleven. Tomorrow you will deliver a speech announcing the dismissal of Minister Kadangle. You are planning with Bogin to execute him within the month. Although you have not yet decided, you will dissolve the Council in seven weeks. Tobor Zranga is blackmailing you and you are afraid to confront him. He claims a power of prophecy which he has demonstrated in your presence. You tryst regularly with a prostitute named Ium but cannot perform. You rigged the Flume and sabotaged the great door with explosives so the world can be destroyed at your will. You executed Chief Engineer Amug when he threat-ened to relay this information to the Council. In four days a section of the Parvian edge will collapse near Dark Harbor sending the largest wall of water yet over the edge. You will blame Arland sappers for the destruction. In six days you will have an emergency appendectomy, the result of stress at setbacks in the war. In ten days the observatory in Klokomad will report dissolution of the star Zroticon and its elimination from the heavens. In eleven days a whirligig will topple the weathervane on the Dome, which Arland will declare a sign from God in leaflets dropped in the boroughs. The high temperatures in Leri Deri for the next three days will be eighty-one, seventy-two, and seventy-nine degrees. I know the future and can change it. Our interests are not in conflict. I am not alone and you cannot stop us. If you enable me, I will not thwart you. If you kill me, you will not survive.
Muglair looked up from the paper oddly amused. He had had this meeting before with Tobor Zranga. Mutt stared at him. “I am the son of Outin and Paxa. I know what you did to them. They have chosen to spare your life but only if you cooperate. There is a power in this world that is greater than yours. It cannot be contained. I have no interest in politics. I seek only the safety of a woman and child. You will provide me the service of an assistant with full authority. You will hear of this no more.”

Muglair remained silent then called the agents back into the chamber and instructed them to fetch his aide.

“You will give this young man the assistance he requires.”

Mutt wondered if he should have killed the Great Man while he had the chance.

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