Chapter Five. Audience with the Emperor.
The very next morning the Emperor’s men came for her. They drove up in a big black stretch limousine. They told her she was granted a voluntary audience with the Emperor. They told her that attendance was mandatory. They said she may ride in the limo’s coach, or in its trunk. Sogwa chose the coach; but she did not let go of her vacuum cleaner, not for one instant.
It was a long ride to Camp Goliath. The Emperor’s men said nothing the whole way.
Once there they gave her a name-tag. They told her that the audience will be in the sun room in back, and that she will leave her vacuum cleaner in the closet. And she did leave her vacuum cleaner there, though she really didn’t want to.
The Emperor was drinking dry wine. Very, very dry wine. There was not a drop in the glass he was sipping from, and the bottle he kept refilling the glass with was empty. He was pouring and drinking air, and the air made him tipsier with each glass. And as he drank, Chimpy stared through the sun room windows at the water tower in Camp Goliath’s back yard.
At the Emperor’s right hand sat a man made of money, who said nothing, but listened and watched the whole time, smoking a cigar made of human bones and frowning at every word except “profit”.
The first to petition the Emperor was a junkyard dog with a baby face. He was Rover, the Emperor’s Vizier, and he was herding a flock of reporters. “Baaaaaad is goood!” the reporters bleated. “Woorrrrsse is beeettter! Worrsst is beeesssst!”
“Quiet, you hacks!” Rover barked. “How dare you not denounce me?”
The reporters bleated, “Uuup is dowwn! Yees is nooo!”
“Shut up, you sell-outs! Do these meet with your approval, Your Highness?”
The Emperor gave his blessing to the flock, and Rover herded them away.
Next up was a Robot in a business suit, carrying a huge sackful of cash. It insisted on talking before handing the sack over. The Robot spoke in a dull drone about windfall profits, and creative accounting, and closed bids, and cost-plus contracts, and below-prevailing wages, and crony appointments, and inferior workmanship, and eminent domain, and mass dispossession, and mass bankruptcy, and debt enslavement, and other exciting profit opportunities. The Robot said the words “exciting profit opportunities” in a boring robotic drone, but it said them so often that the man made of money looked almost happy.
Then the Emperor said, “Come on, pay up!” So the Robot left the sackful of cash at the Emperor’s feet. “So what do you want?” the Emperor asked the corporate Robot.
The Robot droned, “Permission to do anything to anybody for any reason, so long as it makes an instant penny profit.”
“Permission granted! Next!” And the Emperor poured himself another glass of air.
Next up was the Emperor’s spiritual advisor; a Preacher who had wings and a halo, but also horns and a tail. His feathers were golden, and his hooves were cloven. He carried a book which he called Hole-y, because of all the holes that he had cut out of it.
He also carried a huge sackful of cash, and like the corporate Robot, he too insisted on talking before handing the sack over.
The Preacher with wings and a halo and horns and a tail gave a sermon in praise of Hypocrisy. He preached, “Hypocrisy is good because it is convenient. It has all the value of sincerity, at none of the price. Hypocrisy destroys virtue in order to save it; for what profit it a man to gain his own soul, but lose the world?”
The Preacher with horns and a halo proclaimed:
“Hypocrisy is greater than the saints, for it does not demand that people change their ways. Hypocrisy is greater than the angels, for it creates its own reality. Hypocrisy is greater than creation, for it offers impossibilities.”
The Preacher with wings and a tail testified:
“In the hypocrisy-based community, we attain perfect freedom from responsibility. Ours is the triumph of the whim. Under our care, the innocent are punished, the guilty are protected, the able are dismissed and the incompetent are promoted. By the power of pride, true and false exchange places, upon command. Our strength is as the strength of ten because our hearts are impure. The hypocrisy-based community transcends veracity to attain impunity. O rapture!”
The raindrop on Sogwa’s necklace sparkled like fireworks all through the Preacher’s speech; for Coreena had stormy eyes that flash at the sound of lies.
Sogwa thought the Preacher’s wings, halo, horns and tail made him look like a bug.
The Emperor was so impressed by the sermon that he accepted the Preacher’s sackful of cash in exchange for nothing whatsoever.
Next up was the General. He wanted troops they didn’t have, and money already spent, and equipment already broken, to fight a war already lost, for a cause already forgotten. And failing that, the General petitioned, could he have an exit plan? And failing even that, could he please have any plan at all?
The Emperor said, “How many dead? How many injured? How many tortured?”
The General named three large numbers.
The Emperor said, “Not enough. Stay the course.”
The General said, “Yessir!”
Chimpy drained another glass of air, poured another glass, and said, “Next!”
It was Sogwa’s turn. She had never been so scared in her entire life, but she spoke up anyhow. She said, “Just one question, Mister Emperor sir. How much is two plus two?”
Chimpy sipped some air, then smiled a half-smile. He leaned towards Sogwa and said, “How much do you want it to be?” And he laughed at his little joke: Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh!
The raindrop on Sogwa’s necklace blazed through every color in the rainbow, then settled on a deep bright bloody red which only slowly dimmed to clear.
Sogwa said, “Thank you, Mister Emperor sir. You’ve told me everything I need to know.” She got up to go, and the Emperor poured himself more air.
Nobody watched her go, because so many other petitioners were there.