What better way to round off World Book Day than with a story from another world. This story might sound familiar to the people of your planet. There’s a reason for that, but the story is probably not what you think. The Green Tailor concludes tomorrow… Crustias
The Green Tailor of Mermos-37
RPI 126.D43C / RRD 37
Story acquired by Crustias Scattermush — Senior Branch Repositarian
Dancers in brightly colored silks wove intricate patterns across the lower floor of the imperial throne room. They trailed behind them long ribbons of gold and blue that paused in the air, waiting for the next dancer to grasp them and continue the flow of the dance.
Musicians provided an accompaniment from their gallery high above, the rhythm driven by perfectly in-tune belly-men: amphibious humanoids who inflated slimy resonance sacs over their stomachs, and then forced the air through an opening in their necks to produce a deep bass burp.
While the Emperor’s left head enjoyed the spectacle of the dancers, his right head — the serious and thoughtful one — nodded an acknowledgement to Chancellor Ireton who had been waiting patiently for her master’s attention.
“I confess I was intrigued by your suggestion to grant an audience to this off-world tailor,” the Emperor told the chancellor: the chief minister of the empire. “The whole affair sounds so fanciful, but you know how to provoke my interest, Ireton. Summon him!”
“Yes, Sire.” The Chancellor bowed, politely dropping the gaze of both her heads to the floor for a few seconds. “Although,” she continued, speaking to the floor, “the tailor’s race has no gender. Perhaps ‘it’ rather than ‘he’?”
“Yes, yes,” said the Emperor’s right head. His left looked over briefly to see what the fuss was about. “Such details are for you to deal with,” Right Head told Ireton. “I’ll stick to him. Just bring the fellow in, will you? I’m sure he’s waited long enough.”
The tailor was duly summoned and approached the throne.
Aliens were confusing creatures at the best of times, but it seemed to the Emperor that this one was nervous. The fat little green creature had good reason to be. Though still young, the Emperor took great pride in having finally brought peace to the entire planet of Mermos-37. Uniting the world hadn’t been easy — especially for anyone who had stood in his way. And the fiercest opposition had always come from those who were led by their left head. Yes, the tailor had good reason to be nervous.
The alien flourished the uppermost four of his six limbs and bent his body into something between a curtsy and a bow. Close up, the creature was startlingly green, so much so that he seemed to cast a bilious light over his immediate surroundings, a rather disgusting illumination that oozed through the stripy fabric of his clothing. He was smelly too. The Emperor sniffed. Yes, oh, yes. Not pleasant. The tailor smelled of vegetable peelings that had been left for a few hours on a warm day.
A smile came to the Emperor’s right head as he regarded the tailor, for he delighted in opportunities to show off his knowledge (though really most of it came through his chancellor’s briefings). “You, sir,” he addressed the tailor, “are an Aphidian. Yes?”
The creature bobbed in a comical dance, perhaps another attempt at a bow. “Yes, Your Imperial Majesty.”
At least that’s what the Emperor thought he heard. It was very confusing. The Aphidian’s words seemed to be exuded from his skin rather than come through his mouth. It was almost as if the Emperor could smell the words.
“What’s up?” asked the Emperor’s left head.
“Nothing, no problem,” said his right, embarrassed that the alien had unsettled him so. Unfortunately, Left Head’s interest was aroused and he continued to watch the exchange with the tailor.
“Your, um, your race…” said the Emperor to the green tailor. “You’re renowned throughout the three stellar clusters, but as geneticists, not tailors.”
“My caste combines the two disciplines,” the green creature said, or maybe made the equivalent smell. “We are something new.”
“We see.” Right Head waited until Left grew bored and returned his attention to the dancers and the jesters readying themselves to come on next. “You have our attention for three minutes,” said Right. “Begin!”
Of course, when the Emperor’s right head said we and our, he was only being polite because he didn’t really need his left head — not yet. Rights did the hard thinking and made decisions. Rights were in charge. But for a right and left head to be in disagreement would lead swiftly to madness. Left had his own vital role to play as a sounding board, critic, and expert on emotional intelligence. Sometimes, in a deeply subtle way he couldn’t quite grasp, Right wondered whether Left secretly steered the most important decisions his way. But, that aside, Right led and Left followed. Always. It was the way. The only proper way. Nobody but the most dangerous mutants led with their left, and most of the left-heads had been taken care of during the Emperor’s rise to power.
“We have a special cloth,” said the green creature. “Unique. Valuable. Invaluable. Indispensable.”
“Yes, yes,” interrupted the Emperor, “get on with it.”
The Aphidian was about to get on with it, when the Emperor interrupted again. “Be warned, tailor. I dress myself as befits my office, and not for vanity. Today I wear the finest silks woven with gold strands. On my heads are crowns set with the finest jewels garnered from the far corners of the galaxy. But in my private chambers I dispense with all such finery. I have many faults,” though really he was convinced he had none, “but vanity is not one of them. You have one minute remaining. Proceed!”
“It is not your vanity I seek to satisfy, Your Majesty. I want to provide a solution to your most intractable problem.”
That brought Left Head round like a shot.
“I can offer you a fabric of bold, yet subtle hues, with a hint of shimmering color change… but it will appear so only to those individuals worthy of being your subjects. To those unworthy, the cloth will be invisible!”
The Emperor’s heads glanced at each other. The glance grew into a stare so intense their noses scraped together.
“He means that some people will see us…” said Left Head.
“Yes?” said Right.
Left lowered his voice to a whisper. “…in the nude!”
“I know,” said Right Head.
“But you say that like it’s a good thing,” moaned Left. “I don’t want to be naked. And in public!”
“Neither do I,” said Right. “But a little embarrassment will be worth it. Besides, anyone who does see us naked will soon have the smirk wiped off their face when they find themselves in prison.”
Right Head turned to the Aphidian. “Tell me more. Tell me all…”
Miss Rodakoi chalked the Laws of Transformation onto the blackboard. The schoolteacher angled her body so that her left head was able to regard her pupils; it wore a bored expression because schoolchildren rarely misbehaved when watched in this way.
Suzia’s left head waited impatiently for the three laws to be written on the board so that the teacher could start the lesson in earnest. Astrophysics she detested; in mathenomics she got by okay, but with transformation she had to restrain herself so she didn’t appear to be a show-off in front of her classmates. Transformation was her favorite subject, and very likely would be what she studied when she finished school and won a place at university.
Something — some nagging doubt — worried its way into her mind. She stared at Miss Rodakoi, but she could see nothing unusual about her teacher. Normally, she would get a sense of a second opinion from Right Head, but that was strangely missing. Left Head turned to look at Right but Right wasn’t there. Well, of course, the other head was still perched on top of Suzia’s torso, but Right wasn’t in on the same thought. Ever since birth, her two heads had always been thinking of the same thing — from slightly different perspectives, perhaps — but her two heads were as closely linked as the two eyes in each head: slightly different but always looking at the same thing. That’s how all children were. But not today.
Suzia’s right head was gazing at Loshank, who was sitting a few desks away. He wasn’t doing anything more than looking cute, as he always did. He wasn’t doing anything special. Right was staring at him just because she wanted to. Just for the pleasure of doing so.
The first thing Left felt was betrayal. Left and Right had spent many long nights talking themselves to sleep about Loshank’s finer points, and how they might persuade him to take some interest in her. They had always talked about him together. Now Right was staring at him on her own.
Left suddenly felt as though she were falling. Everything was splitting asunder. She squeezed herself, every muscle in every part of her body tensing at her command, because if she didn’t hold herself absolutely rigid, she felt sure she would melt into a pool of goo.
What was going on?
But even as Left was thinking the question, she already knew the answer. This was her time… her moment when she transformed from child to adult… when one head took the lead as commander and focus of cold intellect, while the other championed a deeper wisdom, a connection with feelings, both hers and other people’s — though at this point that meant mooning at some boy. She had come of age, just like schoolchildren all over the planet at around her age. Normal it might be, but the change left her breathless, confused.
Which is why it took several seconds before the realization hit her like the shock wave from a starship entering hyperspace — she was one of them! She was a reverser. She was a left-header — an enemy of the state.
She was doomed!
His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of Mermos-37 peered at the bolt of cloth with both heads. The colors weren’t just hideously bright: they changed! He remembered the tailor saying something about the fabric color-cycling, but the Emperor had been so excited by the scheme to catch the Left-headers that he hadn’t been paying attention. He hadn’t thought the tailor had meant the colors changed literally. If he wore that hideous thing, he’d look like he’d look like a novelty party light.
For the first time, the Emperor seriously considered calling the whole thing off, at least until the cloth could be altered. He sighed. He had just used every fragment of his power to magic up an imperial procession out of thin air, at just a few weeks’ notice. Now he’d bullied the Imperial Civil Service into organizing the event, he wasn’t sure even he had the power to call it off.
And there was more! Not only did the material look ugly, but it shimmered — not from reflected light but as if it wasn’t entirely there. But it was there! He could see it! Couldn’t he?
He banged both his heads together, an indelicate act but one that worked. He looked again, and found the cloth appeared more solid now. Well, not solid exactly, but he now felt convinced in his gut that the material did actually exist.
This was still very confusing, but he decided to put that to the back of his heads to avoid looking an idiot.
“Forgive me, Sire,” said Chancellor Ireton. “The tailor warned me this might happen, but felt the matter too delicate to explain to you directly.” The Chancellor took a deep breath and came close so she could speak in a whisper. “It is your ancestry, Sire.”
“What of my ancestry? I have the finest parentage.”
“Indeed you have, Sire. But — if I may speak frankly — it was common amongst your more distant ancestors to marry not for love, but for dynastic reasons.”
“Of course. There is no shame in that.”
“None whatsoever. It’s just that some imperial marriages — in the most distant past, of course — may have been… ahem… between left-headed and right-headed individuals.”
The Emperor bit back his reprimand, for the chancellor’s words were true. The imperial family tree was public record. Very few ever dared speak of the impurity in the Emperor’s bloodline, but it was undeniable that he had distant ancestors who were… of the left persuasion.
The reminder was embarrassing, but the important thing was that he could see the tailor’s special cloth. Just about. It just looked a little peculiar, that’s all. More importantly, to those who were truly tainted with left-headed blood, he would appear naked. And finally, the nest of left-headed mutants hiding in the capital city would be revealed… and eradicated.
“Mum…! Dad…! Dad…! How can… Mum!” Suzia was so angry that both her heads were speaking at once, and were getting confused. Her heads glanced at each other. Left Head took over. Suzia was starting to get used to Left taking charge.
“How could you not have told me?” asked Left.
Her father looked pointedly at Theria, Suzia’s little sister.
“Well, don’t use her as an excuse,” said Suzia. “Theria needs to know too.”
“It’s not an easy thing,” her father said, sighing. Her father’s left head said. Normally it was his right who spoke most, but that — it seemed — had been a lie.
“You could have turned out right-headed,” said Mum. “Theria, you might still turn out to be a right-header when your turn comes. Just because we’re both lefts, is no guarantee of how either of you would turn out.”
“And if I had been a right head,” said Suzia, “then you’d have, what… lied to me forever?”
Dad drew a deep breath from each head. “Yes,” he said with both heads in unison. “A thousand times, yes. Life is made so much more difficult for left headers. In theory all we need to do is register our condition with the authorities and report to the police every week. In practice, if you’re registered, no one would offer you a job unless it was so dire that no right-header will take it. And if you’re robbed or cheated by a right-header, the police won’t do anything. But things could get a lot worse if you’re outed as a left-header, and I think that’s what will happen in years to come.”
Suzia waited, but Dad stopped himself from saying aloud what worse might mean. Somehow that made it even more frightening. Theria looked even more scared than she did.
“There could come a time,” Dad eventually said, “when you could be persecuted just for having left-headed parents, even if you yourself were right-headed. That’s why we kept our secret.”
Suzia’s heads looked at each other and sighed. “Growing up sucks, Dad. Big time. I thought we’d have dramas about boys and boundaries. This is far, far worse. How am I going to cope?”
Her dad cuddled her. “Don’t despair. It needn’t be that bad. You can prosper as a leftie. It’s not easy, and the best approach is to keep to the shadows of society. We’ll teach you how.”
“But why do the right-headers hate us so, anyway?”
Dad shrugged. “We’re different,” said his left head. “Do they need any more reason?”
His right chipped in: “If there comes a time when we’re no longer around, the right-headers will find divisions within themselves. Mark my words.”