After nearly a minute, Eliot grew sick of the tribute and he waved his audience to silence.
“Gentlemen,” he said, in his gravelly, old-man voice, “we have work to do.”
There was some muttering.
“I am going to give you your battle plans and then I am going to introduce you to one greater than me, the prime mover, the generator, the master of the universe,” said Eliot.
Amazement and confusion spread over the throng. If Eliot wasn’t the boss, anymore, if this fellow, this Nikolai Veblen Einstein Twain, wasn’t the boss, who the heck was? This uncertainty, all these new developments, planted a seed of mistrust and doubt in some minds and started the rot that would , in time, cause the revolution to rip itself apart.
Eliot knew this would happen. There was nothing he could do to stop it. In fact, he had argued frantically against using this approach. Having a basic understanding of human psychology, Eliot knew that these men, men who were risking their lives and the safety of their loved ones, these men were in a fragile state of mind. Their fear was finely balanced against their hatred for the evil regime of Norquist and Cheney and, worst of all, Smelt and Dribbins. One more hint of doubt, uncertainty, or indecisiveness could send half of them scuttling home like so many armored sand-crabs.
“Humans don’t want the truth,” he had told Cthulbanana. “They want reassurance. If my clone introduces me as his leader and I immediately turn over power to a different, an unseen and unknown person, they’ll waver. They will have doubts. They will begin to question themselves and fear will grow. Trust me,” he told the robot, “the last thing humans want is the truth. We can’t handle the truth.”
A mighty blast of thought from Cthulbanana slammed into Eliot Rosewater’s brain. It was like an explosion. He didn’t attempt, after that, to alter the plans or to inject his own ideas into the scheme.
In his mind, he was certain that he could tweak things a bit, improve the odds of the rebels, if he was allowed some input. He wasn’t given that opportunity. His role could be performed as planned or his part would be written out. No other options were available. Grudgingly, Eliot accepted the part he was given. In fact, it was a wonderful role, one that most men would love. There were three parts to his performance: (1) He would be introduced as the greatest man who ever lived. In fact, he would be ballyhooed as a magician, as a healer, even as a miracle-worker who brought the dead to life. (2) He would give the men their battle plans. (3) He would notify them that Kilgore Trout would be replacing him as leader of the rebellion.
One part of him liked the fact that, unless he farted or soiled himself on stage, in front of the generals, there was no way he could screw things up. Once Kilgore Trout arrived, he would retire from the role of figurehead. He had never wanted to be the leader of a military movement. He just wanted to be one of the boys, one of the good guys. He wanted to jet into battle with his flying chair’s machine guns blazing and with missiles firing.
Bankrupt and sick, Eliot had reached that tipping point in his life. All he had to look forward to was pain, hunger, homelessness, pain, dementia, cancer, or heart failure. Eliot was just worn out. He wanted to go out with a bang.
With that thought overwhelming all the others crashing around in his brain, he led his clone-double and the gang of generals down a dim hallway to their War Room.
A sensor realized he and Clone-Eliot had entered the room and all the lights came on. It was dazzling. This room, though less than half the size of the room the Eliots had used to address their military leaders, hummed its intensity. The heat and lighting were programmed to anticipate Eliot Rosewater’s wishes. The lighting was recessed and you couldn’t see its source; but the men walked in and found themselves bathed in a tropical blast. I’m just talking about the lighting, here. The temperature was a comfortable sixty-eight degrees.
In the center of the room was a rectangular, wooden table five feet wide and forty feet long. Two seats, at the left end of the table, were noticeably higher than the rest. The two Rosewaters stood side-by-side at those seats while all the other men filed in and took seats along the sides of the table. Behind those chairs were twenty 75-inch screens up on the walls. As the generals strode in to the room and found their seats, those screens projected bright, identical, photographs of Earth.
The center, the focus, of every screen, was Constantinople. (This is where these men were meeting. Known as Istanbul before the European – Arab wars, it seemed the logical place for a rebellion against Rome) In an hour, each screen would be filled with images from other rebel headquarters around the world. In front of each chair was a folder. Eliot Rosewater and his clone sat side-by-side at the head of the table. Eliot spoke into an invisible microphone and ordered the generals to open up the folders.
While they did this, in another time, on the same planet, Sylvia Rosewater and myself found ourselves spit out of the worm-hole and into a restroom at Maison de Saussure, a chateau owned by the Aga Khan. We were inGeneva,Switzerland, in November, 1985. Down the hall, Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan were hammering away at a peace agreement.
“Lock the door and don’t let anyone in,” Sylvia warned me. “We’ve gone back in time. I must stop Gorbachev from poisoning Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa,” I said, in the best manner of an early twenty-first century American television addict. “What do you mean, ‘stop’ him? I’ve read some history. Neither Reagan nor Thatcher were poisoned.”
“Yes, they were,” said Sylvia. On this very day, in this very building, Gorbachev will slip a capsule into Reagan’s water and it will cause him to develop Alzheimer’s Disease. He’s already given the drug to Maggie Thatcher. If I can stop him from poisoning Reagan, today, we’ll go back in time just six months, and protect the Prime Minister of England.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa,” I said. “What about the mosquito affect?”
“You’ve read too much science fiction, sonny,” said Sylvia, and she tousled my hair.
“If I’m not back in ten minutes, you will be transported back in time to World War II. You have a job to do.
“Don’t let anyone in but me. I’ll knock, like this,” she said, rapping the bathroom door with her knuckles in a rhythmic fashion. They went: tap, pause, tap, tap, pause, tap, tap, tap.
She leaned forward and kissed me fast, on the cheek. “Wish me luck, soldier,” she said.
And she was gone.
I stared at the door, then I walked to the beautiful, stained glass window at the far end of the palace pooper. The room looked, to me, to be nearly three hundred square feet in size. The ceiling was twelve feet high.
The woodwork and the tile in the bathrooms back in 1985 at Maison de Saussure have been compared with the tile work and trim in the finest churches ofZurich.
The toilet, itself, was one of those old-fashioned things with a tank up by the ceiling. The chain that connected it to the crapper was gold-colored. All the fixtures, all the handles, all the drains, everything that wasn’t porcelain or tile were gold. If it had a minibar and room service, it would have been perfect. Still, I hoped Sylvia could stay out of trouble and not get hurt. Mainly, I hoped nobody else would try to come in.
Several anxious minutes passed. In my nervous condition, I felt like an hour had gone by. Still, I couldn’t accept the thought that Sylvia wouldn’t come rap, rap, rapping at the door at any second. The room began to spin. Sylvia wasn’t back. Imagine my surprise. As I began tumbling in the rolling, rocking, spinning room, the door jam splintered and flew in jagged bits all over the place. Thirty-three-year-old KGB agent Vladimir Putin was pointing the business end of a handsome blued-steel machine pistol in my direction. I forced myself to look past the deadly weapon. There was no sign of Sylvia in the hallway.
Then, I was gone.