Wednesday, 24 February 2016

The New Order


The President sat at his polished oak desk, gazing out of the picture window across the palatial lawns of the Mansion. Sprinklers were doing their work, keeping it all green and verdant. Ten years he'd been here now, ten years making himself President-for-life, using all the tricks he'd learned whilst crawling his way to the top of the pile. Now it was all silk suits, flags waving, and uniformed flunkies saluting as he stepped out of chauffeur-driven limousines. After ten years, he knew his rule was secure. He turned in his chair, gazing around the palatial office at self-portraits and photographs of meetings with the heads of powerful states. His country had come a long way from the first days. He remembered the times addressing vast crowds of angry workers outside the factories, calling them to join the revolution. Oh, how the authorities had trembled and sent out their informers and security police to stop him. Amateurs, he snorted to himself. Amateurs.

He smiled, remembering the riots he’d fomented, the street-fights with political opponents, the secret deals fixed behind closed doors in smoke-filled rooms. Then there were the daily marches he’d organised with hundreds, then thousands of students and workers and peasants, all demanding change. One day, the police and army panicked, they’d started firing at the demonstrators- and that did it. The blood of the martyrs had seeded a revolution that threw out the old order and midwifed the new.

So now, here he was. The New Order.

The priests had to go, of course. After a few weeks, executing them all had definitely been a smart move, he was absolutely sure of that. Parasitic crows, the lot of them. All their shrines and churches and mosques and congregations were a threat, an alternative source of popular power, and he couldn’t be doing with that. The foreigners in the Western world had bleated about human rights, but as long as he approved and signed their lucrative oil and gas supply contracts, they couldn’t actually do anything. In fact, some were now clamouring to sell him all sorts of amazing new products, especially the sort used by security forces to clamp down on dissenters. Some were really nifty. He kept a few samples in his desk just for fun.

Meetings were more enjoyable now as well. He’d created jobs for all the intelligent and loyal members of his close family, which made cabinet meetings feel like clan reunions from the old days. And of course, nobody felt too inclined to disagree when the President had decided to name the national days of the working week after his mother, his father, his two brothers and one sister, and the weekend days after his two favourite cats- for a joke.

So what next? The President had settled on giving his people a permanent reminder of who he was, a Son of the Common People who had set them all free from the ridiculous dictates of religion and superstition and democracy. Because whatever you do for the people, they'll always forget what you've done unless you give them reminders, symbols to keep them on the straight and narrow. So putting his face on all the currency was an obvious move. But then it happened, the brilliant idea that floated into his mind in the middle of a sleepless night. A statue, that's what I need. He'd immediately turned on his bedside light, grabbed a pen and paper, and started scribbling.

Ten weeks later, the design had been made a reality, and the grand public unveiling planned. This gleaming gold statue of the President was 20 metres high, its plinth placed on a giant mechanical turntable situated in the main square in front of the palace. It was all designed to turn- and timed electrical motors would ensure that the President’s face would always face the sun as it tracked across the sky. It had cost a lot of tax-money, of course – but when the currency was also named after the President’s mother, people could hardly complain. Not, that is, if they had any sense.

Yes, he thought. That's the way to do it. Show them who you really are.

A few days later, on the Festival of the President's Birthday, crowds were bussed in from the countryside to loyally acclaim the new installation, accompanied by fanfares from a succession of traditional musicians, a symphony orchestra, and a serenade from last year’s winners of the Eurovision song contest. But just as the unveiling was about to happen, a Presidential Aide came hurrying up to the palace balcony where the president and all his family were waiting for the big moment.

‘Sir, there’s a problem!’

‘What?’

‘It's the statue!’

‘What’s wrong with it?’ hissed the president, trying to not look foolish in front of his family.’ I saw it yesterday evening, and everything was working fine. Stop fussing! Tell them to proceed!’

‘Please Mister President! Don’t...’

‘Do It Now!’

The aide gulped nervously, nodded, and disappeared down the stairs to pass on the Word. And so after another added fanfare, the curtains around the statue fell away... to reveal the face of the Dear Leader. Drums rolled, fireworks exploded overhead, a youth choir sang their praises, and applause from the crowd was dutifully and enthusiastically given. Because after all, the secret police were watching. The President smiled. The little moment of doubt was over.

But then he saw it, what the Aide was talking about.

It was the Sun. Something in the sunlight was reflecting differently off the face on the statue, something they’d never actually tested before the great unveiling this morning. The great Face was definitely in the likeness of his own face, but the features were shifting, creating their own shadows as the mechanism turned – and what he saw in the face seemed to be strangely... alien.

Then he remembered something from the back of his memory, an illustration he’d seen in a child's religious book long ago of another ancient kingdom, and another golden statue. Babylon, yes, that was it. The great golden statue standing on a plain outside the city. And who was the Emperor in that story... Nebo.... Neba.....Nebuchadnezzar? Something like that. And all of a sudden, he wished there was a priest here to tell him more about the story. Because this vision of his own Face was frightening him now, more than any other face in the kingdom. And the most maddening thing was- he didn’t know why.   

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Any requests of subjects for future posts in 2016? No idea too stupid for consideration. And yes, I know I am a bad writer, so don't bother saying that unless you can write something better. But maybe there's a topic buzzing around in your head that you'd like to see covered... because I've got a keyboard here, it's loaded with letters, and I ain't afraid to use it.