Sylvia Rosewater stared at me like I was water that had been growing moldy in a sink full of dirty dishes.
“What are you looking at?” I asked her.
“You,” she said. “You’re filthy. What kind of hole did you drop out of?”
“It was a crater, really,” I said. “Caused by an explosion.”
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“I think so,” I said.
“Well, then, why don’t you go get cleaned up?”
“I haven’t had the opportunity.”
My savior, my friend, my rescuer, Zog, materialized. He rapped his knuckles on my shoulder. The room turned to liquid and spun around me like paint in a can. I felt myself losing consciousness.
When I awoke, I was clean. I was shaved. My teeth felt squeaky, like I’d just had them cleaned at a dentist’s office. I felt marvelously refreshed. I looked down and saw that the uniform I had been wearing had been replaced by another. I didn’t recognize the fatigues that I was wearing. That’s because the likes of them had not been seen on Earth, outside of museums and books, for over a century. That is to say, the uniform I was wearing was exactly the same as that worn by any American foot soldier a hundred years before I had been born. I stood up and tied a military utility belt around my waist. I clipped the canteen holder in place, filled the metal canteen with water from a fountain mounted on a wall near my cot, twisted its cap on, and slid it into its holster. I snapped two packets full of bullets onto the belt. I leaned over to pick up the helmet and rifle that seemed to be calling me, and this room, too, began spinning madly.
Here we go.
I’d made an earlier reference to the movie THE WIZARD OF OZ. Here is another. I found myself in a wailing vortex, like the inside of a tornado. Things all around me were bashing into each other or flying off to places unseen. It was like being in that scene where Dorothy saw that woman on a bicycle, peddling her you-know-what off. This time, I was Dorothy and that woman was Sylvia Rosewater. She was sitting on a wooden rocker and she was spinning, spinning, spinning in circles, all around me. It was like I was the center of the circle. She defined the radius. Just past her, it was all clouds and wind and madness.
Meanwhile, on Earth, “My generals, I command you,” bellowed the cloned Eliot Rosewater.
The room fell silent.
“Bow down before your new leader,” Rosewater roared into his microphone.
There was a rumble, a grinding sound, and then a boom, as the great metal door to the underground hanger slammed open. Then silence. There was a tiny sniff of ozone in the air and a barely-discernible hum as Eliot Rosewater, the real Eliot Rosewater, sailed slowly into the great hall. His maglev chair seemed like a wonderful magic carpet to the incredulous soldiers who stared upwards at the old man.
It floated like a cloud over the massed fighting men. It settled without a sound on the huge stage. Clone-Eliot took three quick steps to his right, bowed deeply from the waist, then, remarkably, slid down on one knee and took one of Eliot Rosewater’s liver-spotted hands in his own hands. Without facing his audience, he shouted out to the confused but enthusiastic throng, “This is your leader. This is my leader. This man has been my leader, my mentor, and my advisor since the beginning.”
He rose slowly, reverently, to his feet, winked at the real Eliot, then did a sharp right-face and said, “Attention,” into the microphone on his lapel. The military men, like a pack of Ivan Pavlov’s dogs, reacted as they had been trained. In less than two seconds, it was quiet as a church on Monday (assuming the church was not hosting any kind of meeting or rehearsal). Clone-Rosewater cleared his throat and spoke quietly and slowly.
“I am now, merely, the Commander of All Resistance Armies. I resign my position as your ultimate leader. I resign in favor of a better man. This man you see before you. This is the man who miraculously restored me to life.”
His well-trained generals remained still as the grave.
“Gentlemen, let me introduce you to Nikolai Veblen Einstein Twain, the greatest, wisest, bravest, and smartest man to ever live on the face of the Earth. He is a prophet and a healer. He gave me life when I had died.”
You could have heard a pin drop in that cavernous hall.
Clone-Rosewater turned to the real one and began clapping his hands. The generals followed suit. In no time, the applause was real and deafening. Eliot gave a quizzical look to the replicant and then smiled at his mob of followers.