The concluding part to our tale of a divided world. If you missed part one, no worry: you can read that by following this link.
More tales from other worlds will be posted soon. Subscribe or miss the wonder! — Crustias
The Green Tailor of Mermos-37
Part # 2
Suspended in the traditional way from the backs of four huge spinosaurs, the imperial platform lumbered around the corner and into Nibboloth Plaza, where the cheers of the crowd rose to a new crescendo.
The imperial procession had been hurriedly arranged to give the Emperor a chance to show off his new clothes. Luckily, the twelfth anniversary of his ascension to the imperial throne was soon, and if anyone thought it strange that the Emperor had suddenly decided to start celebrating that date, they were too sensible to mention that dangerous opinion.
In fact, the procession was going so well that the Emperor managed to almost forget his sea sickness, and the knowledge that his clothes were at best hideous (he wished the cloth would settle on a single color, rather than cycle through all the worst possibilities); and at worst, his clothes were invisible.
Perhaps he should do this procession thing more often? Yellow and blue banners festooned the route, flapping in the cooling breeze; the fanfares of welcome were sounded by the finest musicians in each city district as the procession crossed the boundary from one district to the next — all these things were in honor of the most powerful man in the world. And so he was, but the Emperor still felt compelled to sit on a throne lashed onto the back of a raft carried by huge reptiles with no more sophisticated suspension than bands of well-oiled leather. Tradition demanded he do so.
“Look, Father!” His younger daughter pointed to the Temple of the First Coming of Nibboloth at the center of the plaza. Young male acolytes, wearing loin cloths in imperial yellow and blue, were bungee jumping off the brass dome that topped the temple.
“Isn’t that dangerous?” asked the Empress.
“At least they’re making use of the dome,” said the Emperor’s older daughter.
The Emperor’s left head laughed at that. The Temple of Nibboloth had been awaiting the god’s first coming for over a thousand years. The brass dome was perfectly tuned — and was retuned every other Sunday — to be rung when Nibboloth finally put in an appearance.
Right Head shushed Left, but he was grateful to have something to joke about. The Emperor loved all the public adoration, but Right Head still felt uncomfortable with the knowledge that to some in the crowd, his new clothes were invisible. Underneath his loose-fitting robes, the easy palace life had made his tummy grow larger than he would like. Still, at least his belly covered up those bits he was least eager to have on display.
But his nakedness was all in a good cause.
The Emperor started waving to the crowd, which brought a great boost to the cheers.
Flitting silently, like an infestation of insects in stealth mode, fist-sized hoverbots darted through the crowd, ever alert, seeing everything, reporting anyone who appeared shocked by the emperor’s clothes… or lack of them!
Suzia’s left head craned back to watch the bungee jumpers high overhead while her secondary head — her right one — watched the Emperor’s approach. This was her way of pretending to be a normal person: a right-header. Actually, the religious jumpers of Nibboloth genuinely intrigued her. Jumping off a dome as not an obvious thing to do, nor a safe one. Smeared in grease, they slithered halfway down the side of the gleaming metal until their elastic ropes bounced them up again. The grease made the dome look as if it were bathed in sweat. The acolytes’ attire was the strangest thing of all. How Nibboloth was supposed to think that…
Wait! Something wasn’t right!
Instead of observing the procession, Right Head was staring straight at Dad, at the look of horror on both his faces.
Dad’s right head looked behind him and hissed: “Whatever you do, do not react when you see the Emperor. Instead, look at my reaction and try to appear surprised by me.”
Hoverbots began to crowd in, little black spheres stuffed with cameras.
Dad shut up.
Suzia’s right head whispered Dad’s instruction to her left head. Left promptly swung her attention round to her father. The weight of his unhappiness pushed down so hard he seemed on the verge of toppling over.
Theria giggled — both heads at the same time.
“There’s nothing to laugh at,” Suzia’s left head hissed at Theria.
“Course there is,” her younger sister’s left head replied.
“The Emperor looks like a clown,” added her right. “He looks a total ninnytwit.”
Suzia turned both heads to stare at the Emperor. There he was, flanked by his two daughters and his empress, sitting uncomfortably on his carved wooden throne… completely naked! Not a thread. Not even a stitch.
“His clothes are changing color,” Theria said, with difficulty as she was giggling so much. “He looks even sillier than the bungee jumpers.”
“Hey! We can hear you!” came a shout from above.
“The little girl’s right,” someone shouted from nearby in the crowd.
“But that’s the Emperor you’re talking about,” answered another voice.
“And he’s got a sense of humor. Good for him.”
As the crowd argued, Theria’s laughter took control of her. She pointed at the Emperor, shaking with mirth. “Look! Look! Look at the Emperor’s clothes!”
Suzia could sense the crowd tense. Everyone but Theria shut up.
The tension had wound the people up as tightly as a spring. That spring had to release, and it could have come out as panic. A few people could have started to slink away, scared they would be arrested if they stayed. Then, frightened that they would be the ones left behind, everyone else would stampede to get away. The crush would be horrendous. People would get hurt.
But that didn’t happen. The spring stayed wound for a few moments longer.
Putrid green. Shocking pink. Electric blue with snot green zigzags… The Emperor’s robes lit up in such a ludicrous series of patterns that the crowd couldn’t help itself. After an awkward, long silence when the only sounds were Theria screeching with mirth, and the soft hum of the hoverbots, the crowd erupted into laughter. Within seconds, what had begun as a nervous release, grew into full-on, belly-clutching, side-splitting, tears-running-down-cheeks, trying-not-to-wet-yourself laughs — the kind that fed on itself and could not stop.
“What a performance!”
“Look at him go!”
“What do you call that color?”
“I can’t believe it.”
“What a guy!”
“Who’d have thought?”
“Oh, this is priceless!”
Both of Suzia’s heads looked through the cheering, chortling crowd, scanning the reactions.
And if some of those people were laughing at whatever it was that Theria was seeing, and if others were laughing because the Emperor looked completely naked, then no one could tell the difference.
Suzia grabbed a passing hoverbot and kissed it.
Theria had saved them!
Chancellor Ireton escorted the Aphidian tailor back to the imperial throne room.
The Emperor waved his encouragement. The procession had been a spectacular success, though the Emperor had made it very clear to his personal servant that morning that he was to wear his old clothes from now on.
“You have done well, tailor,” said the Emperor’s right head.
He could not, of course, reliably interpret alien body language, but he thought the creature acted pleasantly surprised, as if he were accustomed to his special clothing being a failure.
“The Emperor’s new clothes were a stunning success,” said Chancellor Ireton. “Surprise is such a difficult reaction to conceal, and those dangerous left-headers were certainly surprised by His Imperial Majesty’s… ah… apparent immodesty. The hoverbots caught even more renegades than we’d hoped.”
“Excellent,” said the Emperor. “And that wretched lot on Nibboloth Plaza — the steaming pile of degenerates who laughed at me — have you arrested all of them?”
Ireton, paused before replying, “No, Your Majesty.”
“Well, when you do, make sure you execute the lot of them. Painfully.”
Ireton paused again. “Your Majesty, you know that I treat left-headers and other rebels with the utmost firmness.”
The Emperor thought a moment, trying to work out what the chancellor was babbling on about. But he knew without a doubt that what she had said was true: the chancellor was indeed ruthless. “Go on,” he said.
Chancellor Ireton smiled elegantly. The Emperor knew Ireton was tough with his enemies, but what he didn’t realize was that she was even better at telling him what he wanted to hear. If it came to a choice between doing what was in her master’s best interests, and telling him something that would make her popular in his eyes — well, that was no choice at all!
“Your Majesty, the people on Nibboloth Plaza laughed because…” She gave a polite cough, and whispered. “Your attire was most colorful.”
“What? Well, maybe it was, but that’s no excuse for laughing.”
“Of course not, Your Majesty. Still, it would seem a shame to execute them. They only laughed at you because they love you.”
“Rubbish! They were mocking me.”
“Perhaps… But… just maybe… they felt they were sharing a joke with their imperial ruler. After all, if they only hated or feared you, they would not have dared to laugh. Only those who felt they could trust you would laugh.”
An unfamiliar warm feeling spread through the Emperor. The Chancellor’s words made sense. They made a lot of sense! “You know, Ireton, there’s a reason I keep you around.”
“Really, Your Majesty?” Ireton had a warm feeling too — one of relief. The Emperor’s chancellors never lasted long. Perhaps she wouldn’t need to use that emergency off-world escape plan just yet.
“Yes, Ireton, you fool.” The Emperor laughed. “I have many faults, but vanity is not one of them. Occasionally I know that even I can be wrong, and you are the only person I know who can spot those times.”
The Chancellor bowed so low her heads nearly touched the ground.
“They were good people on Nibboloth Plaza,” said the Emperor, “every man, woman, and child.” The smile left his lips on both faces. “Now, how many lefties have we arrested so far?”
Ireton bowed again, looking very pleased with herself. “The count so far is 2,173.”
The Emperor whistled with both heads. That was a lot!
“Who could have imagined that so many ran wild in the underbelly of the imperial capital?” said Ireton. “But never again will the left-headers be such a threat, thanks to the magical cloth of our green Aphidian friend.” She gestured toward the alien, eager to shift the Emperor’s attention onto someone else.
The Emperor nodded agreement. “Yes, indeed, Ireton. The people love me and the left-headers are being arrested in droves.” He gave out a happy sigh. “Well done, my green friend,” he told the tailor.
The alien — the smelly green alien, if the Emperor was honest — was so taken by this praise, that he danced a jog on his spindly hind legs, giving off a scent of old woodsmoke and rotten grass cuttings.
The Emperor imagined he could actually smell words coming off the tailor.
Finally, it seemed to say. It worked!
You might have heard similar stories from your own planet. The tailors’ special clothing usually yields disastrous results, and yet the Aphidians are fantastically (not to mention annoyingly) rich. So if their clothing normally brings disaster, where does their wealth come from?
We simply do not know the answers to this question. If you know of a tale to enlighten us, please come into our nearest Repository branch and swap it for one of our stories in our A Tale for a Tale program.
Though we can’t be sure whether this story is true, the rivalry between left- and right-headed people on Mermos-37 sadly is all too true… or rather it was. The madness of purity afflicts most species in the early stage of their development, but most grow beyond it when they move from their home worlds to encounter the vast diversity of the galaxy.
In this case, the left-headers died out within a dozen generations of our story. You might think that with the left-headers no longer there, the right-headers would no longer feel threatened. But the problem with a purity-obsession is always the same — the criteria for purity grows narrower and narrower until almost everyone is classified as one of the impure. The right-headers turned their fear and hatred on themselves.
But this two-headed race did not quite die out. No, no, their fate is far worse. Made immortal by anti-ageing nanobots, and indestructible by armored robotic exoskeletons built from exotic metals mined from white dwarf stars, what was once a vibrant race has been reduced to two individuals, each trying to purge the other from existence for the sin of impurity.
These two have been hammering away at each other for the 78,000 years since we recorded this story sphere. We suspect this is only the start of their battle.
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