While Sebastian and his companions are journeying through the Outlands in search of lost Humankind, back in Carrot Field deeply troubling changes are happening to the government under the new Prime Minister, Phineas Pharaoh. Sebastian’s uncle, Richard, sets out to discover the truth . . .
Richard was led into another office by Pricsilla; she left him and shut the door behind her. There, seated behind a big desk, was Phineas Pharaoh, a calico Cat.
“Sit down, Richard. It is a pleasure to meet you again.”
Richard took one of the seats in front of the desk.
“After the welcome I’ve received here, I shouldn’t doubt it.”
“Don’t be bitter, Richard, it doesn’t suit you.” Pharaoh lit a thin cigar. “Would you care for one?” Richard declined. “As I was saying, you work so hard to be upright, to do the right thing, you’ve made it hard on yourself. Others, the ones who know when to just go along, are left alone. After all, why should I worry about them? As long as I give them an explanation, any explanation, they are satisfied. No, it’s the ones like you, and your nephew, who cause me trouble. And you have to be dealt with. The stronger the opposition, the harder I have to be. I know I won’t break you as easily as I would the average Animal. It won’t be that simple. It will take time, and a combination of methods, and persistence, and believing that you can be turned.”
“To prove that it can be done,” Pharaoh replied.
“I don’t understand any of this,” Richard said. “What is it all for?”
“I will show you,” said Pharaoh.
Now that it had come to it, Richard wasn’t so sure he wanted to know.
“Come with me and I will show you,” the Cat said. “We are doing exciting and important work here.”
“Who is we?” Richard asked, perplexed.
“All of us,” said Pharaoh, “who have been held back, by laws, by traditions, by superstitions, by fear. We who dare to dream of a new world, a world of perpetual progress, where nothing that furthers the cause of a perfectly regulated society is disallowed. We who long to be free to carry out grand experiments, to artificially engineer a productive society, where before the blind processes of nature alone determined the shape of civilization. We are many and we have been silenced long enough. We have at last discovered the means to achieve our ends.”
He got up and gestured for Richard to follow.
“No one will harm you as long as you’re with me.”
Richard rose and followed Pharaoh.
As they passed from room to room, Pharaoh spoke.
“Look at all this industry! Busy, happy Animals. It doesn’t matter what they do as long as they have something to do. Idleness accomplishes nothing.” That sounded to Richard like the circular, pointless writing in The Wheel. “And as long as Animals are busy, and they have ‘bigger things’ to worry about, and they have their faith to give their lives meaning, they won’t be asking the ‘big questions.’”
They passed through a vast office where hundreds of Animals toiled on typewriters. “The fiction-mill,” Pharaoh said, raising his voice above the din. “I come from a wealthy family, money was no object to my ambitions. I started investing in the publishing companies before I’d even left boarding school. Over the years, I worked my way onto the boards of directors as a major stockholder. I acted as a ‘spy,’ with insider knowledge, playing them against each other, until enough of them went out of business. The remaining houses bought each other out, which simplified everything. By that point, with my influence, I was virtually running them myself! There isn’t a trend in publishing in the last five years that wasn’t my invention.”
“It hardly seems worth the effort,” said Richard.
“There you are mistaken. I directed the trend toward stories of self-sacrifice, of hope against great odds, of impending war. In the juvenile divisions and pulp magazines, I made sure to glorify war as a great adventure, while painting the Vorlanders as mindless, hateful monsters. I don’t even think a military draft will be necessary. The day after the Emergency Relief Bill was passed by Parliament, thousands of young Animals enlisted.”
“So this is all about starting a war?”
Pharaoh laughed, a breezy, inconsequential sound.
“I don’t want a war!” said Pharaoh. “Nor does Vorland. What I need is for everyone to believe that there might be a war. Then they will be that much easier to control.” They passed into another, equally large, room.
The entire facing wall was occupied by an enormous machine, all flashing bulbs and toggle switches. Animals wearing lab coats stood on scaffolding in front of it, running up and down ladders, throwing switches. The right side of the room was taken up by a printing press, which was cranking out pages.
“What do you say to this?”
“I’ve never seen anything like it!” said Richard, genuinely confounded.
“It’s an experiment,” said Pharaoh, “the world’s first mechanical author. From an infinite number of possible variations, it takes the data we feed into it and turns it into government propaganda. I believe you’ve read some of its works before. The Wheel, for instance?”
“I’d say there are still a few bugs in the system,” Richard replied.
“No doubt,” said Pharaoh, “but not bad for its debut! It serves its purpose, anyway. You’d think that the hardest thing to accomplish would be to teach people to think. But it isn’t so. The hardest thing to accomplish is to teach people to stop thinking. To achieve the desirable blankness necessary to impose a common destiny on an entire population. To make the living more like mechanical things, controllable, programmable, what better tutor can they possibly have than a machine?”
They passed on, into an elevator, going down.
“I still don’t understand. What is all this for? Why so much destruction?”
“Do you mean the Foxes?”
“Why destroy Tod-Boro?”
“So that they have nothing to go back to. If I were to merely relocate them, even succeed in assimilating them, in their hearts they would always long for their true home. So I had to take that home away. They haven’t escaped, don’t worry about that. The winter will force them to surface. They’ll soon beg to be brought here!”
“And what were those creatures?” Richard asked. “The giants I saw?”
“The Un-Men?” said Pharaoh. “Another experiment. That’s Doctor Hoff’s department, Experimental Science Division. You’d be better off asking him.”
“I’d rather not spend any more time with the good doctor, thank you!”
“Oh, he’s charming company over a tumbler of brandy,” said Pharaoh, “a brilliant Animal, but he does get his patients confused sometimes. He removed the brain of a prisoner I had set my heart on for the Ministry of Truth.”
Richard had to laugh. “Ministry of Truth, indeed!”
“Laugh if you will, but I have my eye on you for that position. In fact, I had originally planned on giving it to Sebastian.”
Richard could not conceal his discomfort.
The elevator stopped but Pharaoh did not open the gate at once.
“I know where he is,” said the Cat.
Richard said nothing.
“You cannot protect him. He has gotten in over his head. He has set himself against the Master. A foolish thing to do. I could have warned him. Not that he would have listened. But don’t worry yourself needlessly. I have asked that he not be harmed. But the Master can be vengeful when he wants to be.”
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