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Chapter 12


Chapter 14



ification of the Coition Government. The full details will be given later as it is complicated to explain the method of calculation in the Single Transferable Vote system. The main outcome is as follows. In the first round the Blue Party gained 30% of the vote and in the previous electoral system would have been the dominant party of the Coition government. The Red  Party gained 26%. On vote reallocation, however, the Red Party gained votes predominantly from the second preferences of the Green and Illicit Parties, whilst the Blue Party gained votes chiefly from the Black and White Parties. The final result is that the Red Party has triumphed in the Election with an overall reallocated total of 53% of the vote, against the Blue Party’s 47%. I repeat. The Election has been won by the Red Party!”

Other television station announcers had been less circumlocutory in declaring the result, and choruses of cheers and moans broke out all along the main street before we had any idea whose victory had prompted the response. On the whole, it seemed that those who favoured the victory marginally outnumbered those opposed: a figure perhaps reflected by the curious scaled down percentages.

“This has not quite been the decisive victory the Red Party may have hoped for. It is still in a weak position, although it now has a mandate which will enable it to succeed the Coition Government. Our cameras now take you to the Central Polling Office to hear from the Prime Minister designate.”

The image on the television screen echoed, in curious uniformity, the same picture as all the others on the main street, where successful candidates stood on a platform surrounded by computer screens and a crowd of hostile and enthusiastic observers. It was clear that some disruption in the crowd was holding up the proceedings, in which fruit and flour was being thrown onto the platform.

“A Red Party victory!” Beta exclaimed. “Who’d’ve thought! I suppose they’d’ve been my second preference as well. I wonder what difference that will make.”

“None whatsoever!” opined Una sceptically. “Whichever party is in power, whatever government, everything will remain the same!”

“I can’t see how that can be!” Beta countered automatically but, reminded of Una’s plight, decided not to pursue her argument. “However, less of politics. Shall we continue to the Park? I don’t want Una to get caught up in all the revelry!”

Indeed quite a lot of celebration accompanied us as we walked along the street. Those who favoured the result were evidently making the most of their joy, in a chorus of screams, yells, hooting cars, raised clenched fists and a snowfall of ticker-tape and confetti which showered on our heads from the windows of the tall buildings high above. Horses charged by through nearly stationary traffic neighing praise to the Red Party, sometimes carrying flag-waving carousers on their backs. Red flags were waved in triumph. Blue flags, Green flags and Black flags were waved in defiance. We dodged around a particular nasty fight between some velociraptors in black shirts and a pair of horses. An elderly elephant wearing a blue rosette stood transfixed by the side of the road, seemingly unable to comprehend the results. A pair of hedgehogs wearing bobble hats and green wellington boots looked rather embarrassed by the side of a banner optimistically proclaiming the success of the Green Party.

“I don’t think many people in the Suburbs will be pleased with the success of the Red Party,” I commented to Beta. “Most people there would’ve voted for the White Party or the Blue Party. In fact, I don’t think a single person would ever confess to voting Red. How is it that they managed to win?”

“It’s obvious, isn’t it!” replied Una, taking more interest in the Election than her apparent cynicism would suggest. “The Red Party are the party that more than any other claims to represent the interests of the poor, the dispossessed, the hungry, the disenfranchised, the put upon and the discriminated against. Since there are rather more people like that in this country than anyone else, the real mystery is why the other parties have done so well. There aren’t that many people who’d be classified as rich enough for representation by the Blue Party.”

“So you believe that people are voting entirely for self-interest,” Beta said. “The poor vote for the party of the poor. The rich for the party of the rich...”

“The racists for the party of the racists. The apathetic for the party of the apathetic. Of course! People only ever do anything if they see something in it for themselves.”

“But don’t people vote for what they think is best for the country? Don’t they support the causes they believe are going to be best for everyone?”

“Dream on!” sneered Una weakly.

She was still leaning heavily on Beta and clearly found it quite difficult struggling against the maelstrom of political supporters. The crowds thronged the streets up to the very entrance to the City Park, which was graced by two high ornate gates, supported by tall fluted pillars topped by the statue of a rampant horse. We eased our way through the crowd and into the park which after only a few paces seemed many leagues distant from the City surrounding it.

In all directions ahead of us was a garden landscape of unexpected beauty and magnificence. Oaks, sycamores and beeches dotted well-tended lawns bordered by tarmacked paths and signposted at every junction. The shiny reflection of the sun beamed at us from a lake in the distance, whose calm surface was broken only by swans and small boats. Park benches, small statues, decorative flower beds and ornate lamp-posts dotted the park at discreet distances from each other. There was a sprinkling of decorative buildings, including an open bandstand where a brass band was entertaining a gathering of deck-chairs and the odd snoozing music lover. The distantly seen towering heights of the City seemed somewhat unreal and unthreatening. The park was remarkably quiet despite the constant roar of traffic noises and the exultation of voters from outside. For the first time all day I heard the more peaceful songs of birds darting about in tall trees and felt a more calming breeze on my face than that given off by passing traffic.

“Ohh! This is lovely!” exclaimed Beta. “I didn’t imagine there was anything like this in the City. I don’t know why anyone ever goes anywhere else!”

“Not so much to eat here,” replied Una. “Nice to sleep here during the day, but very dangerous at night.”

Beta looked compassionately at the pregnant girl. “We’d better find you somewhere to rest. How about over there under that big oak by that statue?”

Una nodded, so we slowly ambled across the lawn towards the tree, past the bandstand where moustachioed men were playing a mixture of songs old and new to a relaxing psychedelic beat. A couple of horses grazed nearby, their tails swinging in time to the rhythm. As we approached, it became increasingly obvious that what had seemed like a giant statue of a lion was in fact a real lion, if a rather large one.

“I hope he’s not fierce!” remarked Beta. “If he is, he’d eat all three of us in next to no time! Perhaps we ought to find somewhere else to sit.”

“I think it might be someone I’ve met before,” I remarked.

As I suspected it was indeed Lord Arthur. If anything he looked more bedraggled than before, his large muzzle gazing mournfully at the shadow of a park bench with his paw spread out in front. He raised his head and saw the three of us approach. He seemed listless at first. Then he stood up, appearing to recognise me, towering high above us, trailing his apparently lifeless tail behind him. He walked slowly and unsteadily towards us, really not appearing nearly as fierce or imposing as a lion is supposed to be.

“Welcome! Welcome!” he greeted us. “You are the young man I met so recently in another city, aren’t you? What are you and your delightful friends doing here in the City Park?”

“We were looking for somewhere to rest Una here,” I explained. “We saved her from being abused and as you can see she’s very heavy with child, so we came to the most restful place we could find.”

“An excellent idea. Most excellent,” the lion agreed. “So relax with me under the shade of this magnificent tree. I insist. I would really appreciate the company. After the events of the last few distressing weeks, which have reduced me to nearly the status of a pauper, I need all the friendly company I can find.”

He heralded us towards the tree where he had been lying, and we sat in its shade by the very distinct imprint Lord Arthur had left on the grass. Beta steadily eased Una down to recline on her back and stare straight up at the sky. The bulge of her belly distended out from the inadequate restraints of her ragged clothes and glistened in the sunlight. Beta sat next to me, while Lord Arthur eased himself down onto the trampled lawn.

“It’s been a bad day for me!” the lion said sadly. “Another terrible day. Yet another business sold. Yet another last remnant of a financial empire lost. My last stake in the financial district - all thirteen hundred storeys above and below earth lost to a rapacious pair of hippogriffs. They’d already bought my department store, Arthur’s, in the plush New City district. My final stake in the City. For hardly enough to pay off a quarter of my creditors. All those trillions of guineas of potential wealth gone forever. I’ll be bankrupt before the week is out, I tell you!”

“Are you having money problems?” asked Beta politely.

“You could say that!” Lord Arthur exclaimed. “It’s been one humiliation after another. And to crown it all ... But perhaps there is hope ... The celebration. The cheering. The Election results I presume!” His ears twitched through the threadbare mass of his mane at the distant sound of klaxons and megaphones. “Tell me. What was the result, my dear?”

“A victory for the Red Party.”

“Damn!” swore the lion. “Damn! Damn! Damn!”

He lowered his head, overcome by the news and closed the enormous lids of his eyes. He exhaled heavily several times as if to contain the strength of his feelings, his enormous back arching with each breath. He then raised his head and looked at Beta apologetically.

“Excuse me for my profane language, my dear. But it really is the worst ... the worst possible ... news! My downfall is secured now. No government led by the Red Party would ever express sympathy for me. The Blue Party: I had hope there. A Blue Government and I may have been saved. Any other party and there was the faintest glimmering of hope. But no Red Government would see the need, the urgency or even the desirability of bailing out a bankrupt trillionaire who in his time has been the very icon of material success and economic power! I am now no better than your pregnant vagrant friend in the eyes of the government, and I expect I will be treated with exactly the same lack of sympathy. This is indeed a black day for me, and for all those who have accumulated such colossal wealth during the long years of vacillating rule by the corrupt and indecisive Coition Government.”

“How wealthy were you?” Beta asked.

“Incredibly so,” Lord Arthur replied sadly. “I just had no idea how many trillions I boasted. For a while I was the wealthiest person on this planet. Surely you have heard of the power and wealth of Lord Arthur? Richer than the GNP of most countries! More powerful than the Coition Government and able to pull the strings of any government with just the smallest trickle from my colossal coffers. Able to buy politicians, judges and the power of the media. A wealth and power that was not always used, I hope, in pure material gain but never, of course, against my interests. I was the subject of millions of printed words, of thousands of newspaper inches and of hundreds of magazine covers. Princes, magnates and the heads of churches were at my beck and call. No single person had ever been as powerful nor as wealthy before me!”

“How have you come to lose it all?”

“Misfortune. Imprudence. Fate. Stupidity. I don’t know. So many different reasons. So many possible causes. My downfall has attracted nearly as much attention as my rise. I have never been poor. My family was wealthy, and wealth had been in our genes for countless generations. There have been times of fluctuating wealth over the centuries. First from tin, then wool, but by the time I came into my inheritance on the early death of my father the wealth of our family was mostly in trade and shipping. My genius, if I can be so immodest, was to take advantage of lucrative openings in heavy industry, manufacturing and finance. I was so far ahead of my competitors I could be complacent. My multinationals were big and powerful enough to be free from the taxation and punitive legislation of any one country. I rode slipshod through the world’s taxation and every country’s laws: often forcing through tax advantages and even constitutional changes when it was profitable to do so.

“Sure, there were those who protested at the growth of my business empire, but usually markets were just begging to be taken over. They would even go out of their way to woo my assistance in the hope that I would support their failing enterprises (often, I hesitate to admit, enterprises which had failed due entirely to my own manipulation of the markets). Whatever the initial reaction - hostility or friendship - the end result was the same. The companies were absorbed into the general Arthurian corporation or left nominally independent but in actual fact nearly as much owned by my corporation as any other. My market share in the City rose and rose, until I was unassailable. My competitors could only look at Lord Arthur plc with envy. They knew there was no way they could topple me from my perch.

“Undoubtedly, some tried. A woman of some passion and impressive business acumen first by persuasion and then later by much more aggressive means managed to build quite a powerful company from the ruins of a once powerful food chain. She became an active competitor in the international arena. At one stage it seemed that where my economic advisers were moving in for the kill, so too were hers, and not always unsuccessfully. She managed to muscle in extremely successfully into the spice and marijuana industries, where I’d never been that successful, and took quite sizeable stakes in heroin, furs and fisheries. Her downfall, and my success, in this trade war, was due to her arrogance. She was never content to simply cream off the profit from her acquisitions or her trade. She tried to bring them under rigid control. No company likes to lose its identity. I had always followed the axiom that the main purpose of business is to make money, not to pursue a crusade. Her business empire suffered from employee dissatisfaction and manager buyouts. But then I shouldn’t crow too much about my relative success. She isn’t doing too badly these days while virtually my entire empire has collapsed about me.

“Being the unchallenged leader of the business world was a very heady affair. I only belatedly became aware of just how much wealth I had. Of course, I’d always been believed that I was innately superior, but the proof of it was something different. True, my progress had been troubled by a local problem in which a section of my slavery and popcorn industry had bought itself out of the main corporate umbrella. I was very ill advised. I had treated this section of my industry in just the same unsubtle way that had marred my main competitor, who’d already had her fingers burnt on the same venture. Other than that, and a bit of disruption from the silk underwear unions who’d demanded parity of pay with coal-miners, I had a fairly untroubled dominance of world business.

“Perhaps my downfall was that it had been too easy. I began to believe my own marketing propaganda. I was truly Number One and as Number One likely to remain so. Nobody would ever lose their job through preferring an Arthurian product over a rival. I made sure of that. Whatever I touched turned into gold. This was reflected in my personal life. Despite the quite austere and very proper image I presented to the world, I indulged in secret in all sorts of vice. Drugs, sex, loud music, gross perversion, ostentation became my life. Probably why I haven’t aged quite as well as I ought to have done.”

Lord Arthur looked ruefully at the threadbare patches in his tawny fur.

“However, the rule of business is never to confuse private vice with public virtue, and I’m afraid this is an axiom I often nearly forgot. It certainly bred an attitude of arrogance and carelessness which led to some very unwise investments. I was acquiring businesses through leveraged buyouts and greenmail which with more forethought I should have left well alone.

“However, I can see in retrospect that my worst vice was really complacency. Having such an overriding dominance over your competitors breeds that. You think you can afford luxuries beyond the reach of prudent economics. My companies became famous as good employers: providing staff with the very best working conditions and pay available. It was considered a privilege to work for an Arthurian concern, and people clamoured to do so.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t pay very much attention to the quality of work in relation to the rewards provided for it. It has only recently become apparent that the biggest drain on my resources was the actual incompetence and sloth of employees who siphoned colossal amounts of money on the most dubious business expenses, awarded themselves fabulous bonuses and generated no net profit for the company whatsoever. I was in a sense being bled dry, while other companies were not only exploiting markets like the automobile industry, oil, avionics and the cinema I hadn’t really thought about much, but muscling into markets like steel, shipping and opium where I’d always been the market leader. The combination was lethal, but I just dismissed it as a temporary blip at the time.

 “My complacency was partly cracked during the savage trade wars I was involved in. Subsidiaries of my company were attacked by hostile bids from Second & Third Empire Investments, MicroElectronics and Black & Brown. Some of their acquisitions were very nearly successful and the massive cost of retrieving the subsidiaries from take-over required a lot of damaging cuts in other operations and borrowing an enormous amount of money from the United Standard Bank, a debt that continues to haunt me now. In the conflict, I had to lay off large numbers of staff, run down some of my concerns and even mortgage off some of the profitable concerns. My only satisfaction is that these trade wars were ultimately won by those companies with the greatest economic muscle and business confidence including my own, and although it led to my position as international number one being surrendered to newer companies, I succeeded in thoroughly ruining Second & Third and MicroElectronics who became subsidiaries of United Standard.

“However I was saddled with enormous debts in excess of my conglomerate’s income; a bloated bureaucracy; and a dependence on heavy industry, shipping and solid fuel at a time when these businesses were really not doing so well any more. I attempted to buy myself out of trouble. I invested heavily into financial institutions, started my own high technology and robotics concerns, financed films and expanded automobile production. Some of these ventures were very successful, but generally the money I was piling in was not reaping the returns I’d hoped for. Indeed, I was asset stripping at a frightening rate. I pulled out of heroin, forestry, space travel and slavery altogether. My travel company was reduced to only a few City-based agencies. And my debt was piling up higher and higher. At the same time I was making no concessions to my declining wealth in the salaries and perquisites I offered my employees, and continued to gamble fortunes at the gaming tables, sometimes losing billions of guineas in a single evening. My habits were becoming more, not less expensive, and were now an appreciable drain on corporate reserves.

“Soon enough the inevitable occurred and I am now approaching bankruptcy. I’ve sold off so many capital assets to cover debts that I have hardly any assets from which to make fresh capital. I also foolishly sacked my old and trusted economic advisers for a new set who made me do crazy things: like holding off all investment altogether; putting more money in advertising and promotions than the returns could justify; dropping core businesses to concentrate on peripheral concerns vulnerable to the vicissitudes of a fluctuating Stock Exchange; and building expensive tower blocks in the City which are still left empty and may even have to be pulled down. The whole thing came to a head and the last few months have just been terrible! Everything I struggled hard to build has come collapsing down on me like a house of cards. Every day is spent divesting myself of yet more assets to cover the interest on debt repayment. It won’t be long now until I am totally ruined!”

Lord Arthur raised up his heavy head and arched it high into the sky, revealing the full magnificence of his tawny throat. He opened his mouth in a silent roar revealing teeth at least as long as my fore-arm. He lowered his head down towards us and stared thoughtfully at Una, who was lying motionless on her back, her hands supporting the base of her enormous belly.

“Has your poor friend got anywhere to stay? She will be giving birth within days.”

Beta leaned over to Una and stroked her matted hair. The pregnant girl made no response.

“You think it is that serious?” said Beta. “I really don’t know anything about pregnancy! And no, I don’t believe she has anywhere to go.” She leaned over and gazed into Una’s eyes. “Where are you going to give birth? Have you got a bed reserved in a hospital?”

Una stirred and looked up at Beta most piteously.

“No,” she mouthed. “No.” She coughed, causing her belly to shake with the taut pressure of her exhalations. “They won’t accept me. They haven’t enough beds. Not for people who don’t have homes in the City. They turned me away. I asked, but they told me to go. They didn’t want my sort there, they told me. Not my sort, they said. I’m just not worth their attention.”

The lion stood up and strode a few paces towards Una. He looked down at her, his muzzle yards above her face. I feared that if he licked her, his tongue would totally engulf her, and his teeth did not look at all agreeable.

“The poor child needs help,” he said. “Do you not have anywhere to take her?”

“We’ve only just arrived in the City,” I answered. “We don’t really know our way around or what to do...”

“Yes, it can be very confusing for you if you’ve never been here before. I have only recently come to see any of the City from anywhere other than through the windows of my limousines, and even with my appreciative size advantage I find the City intimidating. So many people! However, if you like, I can help. I still have some wealth. I can ensure that the girl receives expert medical attention or at least a bed for the night. Judging from her ragged appearance, I imagine even that would be an unfamiliar luxury. Once I despised vagrants and beggars. I would brush them to one side with a twitch of my massive tail. But now I am so nearly one myself, I can sympathise more. I shall see what I can do for her.”

“That would be wonderful!” exclaimed Beta. “What do you think of that Una? Lord Arthur here will look after you. He’ll make sure you’re alright!”

Una turned her head to one side and looked at the lion with more interest. She seemed only half aware of the world around her, and her smile was a mere flicker across her thin face.

“That would be nice.”

“How do you feel about bringing a child into the world?” the lion asked Una compassionately.

“It’s a mistake. I’m sure of it. A total mistake. I’d’ve had an abortion if I’d known how. The world is such a horrible place. I know that now. Why should I wish to burden another soul with it? So many people! So much suffering! So much crime, violence and abuse! Not nearly enough for too many people! And it’s not as if I am having the child by choice... The bastard who raped me! I hate him! I hate him! I just hope I won’t hate his child.”

Una closed her eyes and lay back again as if exhausted by her tirade.

We sat silently for a few moments. Lord Arthur was clearly embarrassed by Una’s display of despair, which must have put his own suffering into a different context. In the distance, a pair of horses cantered cheerfully by: one of them supporting a red flag in his teeth and the other neighing joyfully at him. The distant rhythm from the bandstand could be heard over the general faint roar of City traffic. The tree’s leaves rustled gently in the early afternoon breeze, its short shadow moving slowly around and away from us, so that the bruises on Una’s legs were now more visible in the crisp clear light.

“Well...” commented Lord Arthur. “I hope I haven’t bored you too much with my history. It troubles me so much these days. But I still have business to attend to. Unpleasant business, too, but not business I can avoid. The results of the Election are unlikely to have done me any favours. My creditors are going to treat me with even less sympathy than before.” He lowered his head down to look at Una. “I’ll take the poor child with me. She can rest in my mane. It may be thinning, but there’s quite enough of it to keep her warm and comfortable.”

Lord Arthur crouched down on the grass, and with some difficulty Beta and I struggled to get Una onto her feet and then raised her high enough for her to clamber onto the lion’s shoulders. Beta secured her by tying the long tawny hair about her so that she would not slip off. Una sat upright, looking rather wary, her belly partly hidden by the mane and her bare blackened feet sticking out at peculiar angles on either side.

“Are you all right?” Beta wondered, as Lord Arthur gradually rose himself up onto his legs and stood at full height, his head high above us. Una’s small distant face smiled at us bravely as she replied too indistinctly for us to hear.

“She’ll be fine,” the lion assured us. “I’ll take her to a comfortable hotel room and I’ll get some excellent medical attention. Don’t you worry!”

With that he strode off towards the exit of the park leaving us together in the shade of the tree. Beta was still very concerned about Una’s fate, and hoped that we had done the right thing in letting her leave with Lord Arthur.

“There’s nothing we could do,” I assured her. “She must be better off than in the streets or even in the park.”

“I hope you’re right,” Beta reflected as we stood up. We ambled through the park towards the City outside: along the paths, past abstract sculptures, grazing horses, suited office workers eating their sandwiches and children playing on the swings and slides; and then once again plunged ourselves into the urban milieu.


Chapter 12

Chapter 14