Three days after the previous chapter, and back on Voltar, Madion's big moment has arrived, and boy is he stressed. So stressed that he can only express his discomfort in unwieldy, twisted sentences.
Keyed up until it felt his whole insides were going to rip asunder, Madison would know now, in just minutes, if he was to stride on to victory or be left expiring in some unpleasant Voltar gutter, a loser cast away. Just a hair's width of miscalculation could expose all and even bring him death.
For three days he had worked and worked hard, with the knowledge that a failure at any given point in a complicated chain could leave him lost and condemned forever upon this distant strand and it would wreck forever his last chance to finish Heller.
It's not just a matter of life and death, it's a matter of being able to write more newspaper stories about Wister-Heller!
We get a recap of the steps Madison had to take to get this far. First was getting "the son of Snor" to get daddy to stamp an order giving an alien total control of Homeview, but since Snor was passed out from too much The Drugs, Snor Jr. had to steal the official stamp. The alien network's manager was not happy about the order, and gave Madison a lousy film crew as protest. Then a page had to sneak a pre-written order to change a certain building's name into the Grand Council and get one of its drug-addled geezers to sign it without reading the thing. Then there was a bribe, and a bunch of Teenie's pages pressuring Lords to show up for a certain event, and directing Lombar through it... "HARROWING!" stuff. But after all of that nonsense Madison finally has something to show his boss.
So Lombar's slouched behind his desk, and Madison's trying to figure out how Homeview transmissions work when time and space are being given a wedgie by black holes in bondage. He accidentally shows us an example of alien entertainment, "Family Hour," a woman "rocking a child and crooning" as an announcer drones about "the joys of motherhood," the benefits of breastmilk, and the wickedness of animal milk, because animals hump each other in the dirt so their milk only imparts "lust and greed." I guess there's nothing good on TV no matter what planet you're on.
Then Madison's program comes on, images of ancient "SCHOOLS!" followed by someone talking about what buildings are named after which royals. But then the speaker talks about changing times and an order from Lord Snor of the Interior, to change the Royal Page School's name to the Hisst Royal School. And because the building is associated with the Apparatus, if in name only, it's a run-down building even "shabbier!" on film than it was in person.
And here came Hisst striding along to go between the twin lines of waiting Lords, each Lord flanked by a son or a page. They were pretty drugged-up Lords but at this distance one missed it.
NOW, right here, this was the tricky part! If the cameraman erred in any way, Madison was dead, dead, dead!
If you're wondering why this is supposed to be exciting, Madison hasn't actually reviewed the footage yet, so he doesn't know if the drunk cameraman did a decent job. So get back on the edge of your seat.
Hisst strode between the two lines.
THE FIRST ONES BOWED!
Then, as Hisst passed, there was bow and bow and bow. The sons and pages were tugging at their sleeves and every Lord was bowing very low.
On-screen, Lombar stops on an illusion projector, which creates a 200-foot hologram of him, "like a gigantic red Devil," to pat the school's roof. The crowd (of pages) cheers, Hisst marches back past all the Lords who bow again, and that's that. Madison cuts the "recording strip" (screw digital data storage) off before it goes into the afternoon vespers at Casterly Church.
Lombar roused himself. He pointed at the screen and said, "Play that again!" Was he angry? Was he pleased? Had he suspected?
Madison suffered the agonies of the damned while the strip ran through once more.
Then Lombar uttered a shuddering sigh. He said, "They bowed to me."
Then he sat there for a while.
Then he said, "They bowed to me, Lombar Hisst, a commoner."
Then he shook his head. He said, "If I hadn't been there myself, I would never credit it!"
Yeah. That's not a stunt double, that's Lombar at the school. He was there, he walked right past those bowing Lords, he saw them bow not once but twice. But he had absolutely no reaction until he went back to his office and watched it on TV.
Guess he's crazy or something.
Then he sort of rotated his head and blinked his eyes and said, "Lords? Bowing to a commoner?" Then, "It's never happened before in the whole 125,000 years of Voltar history!"
That's not my typo, for whatever reason these two "Then" sentences form a paragraph.
Then he was blinking rapidly. "It can only mean one thing. They knew about the angels!"
"Well, I wouldn't count on them bowing all the time," said Madison. "After all, we have to prepare the minds of the people to eventually accept you as Emperor."
"Yes," said Hisst. "Yes. We have to prepare their minds." And he was off into some daydream, spinning in who-knew-what part of the universe.
Of course, just because Hisst is in favor of preparing minds for his ascension doesn't mean Madison doesn't have to wheedle him to actually follow through with giving this PR master authority and an unlimited budget. But eventually the brain-rotted head of the Confederacy signs the order, and Madison scampers out while Hisst continues to replay the tape of those bowing Lords. See, what Lombar didn't notice - while he was present at the film shoot - was that all those Lords were actually bowing to Queen Teenie.
Madison's knees stopped shaking.
He clutched his goodies to his bosom and sped out of the palace.
Just gonna say, if you're expecting your sci-fi espionage romance satirical epic to be taken seriously, ya might not want to use the word "goodies" at any point.
Though distant still, victory beckoned loud and clear just over the horizon.
HE HAD HIS CHANCE AT HELLER!
Wild exultation began to pound through him as he finally believed himself that it was true!
And no matter what you're writing, try to avoid phrases like "he finally believed himself."
HE WAS THE ABSOLUTE CZAR OF PR ON VOLTAR!
Yes, PR Czar of a planet with no experience in that media "technology." Plus, Madison just saw that having official authority doesn't mean people will be inclined to cooperate with you, and they may in fact give you drunk cameramen out of spite.
But whatever, nothing can stop him now, boy Heller-Wister's in for it, etc. This is exciting and dramatic.
Did we ever clear up why Lombar couldn't order the Lords to bow to him on threat of losing their drug supply?
Back to Part Seventy-Three, Chapter Four