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For All Nails #145: Bad News in Bogotá
by Johnny Pez and Noel Maurer

Royal Palace, Bogotá, Kingdom of New Granada
26 December 1974

Bogotá had some of the most scenic vistas that King Fernando had ever seen, and
the city's high elevation made for a surprisingly temperate climate for such a
tropical location. The only drawback to living there was that the city was
rather isolated. As soon as the CNA placed a communications satellite in a
stationary Blake orbit, [1] Fernando had set up a dish atop the Royal Palace
that allowed him to receive its transmissions. As a result, he had access to
live newsfeed from Bali after Colonel Mercator set off his hell bomb there.

As Fernando sat and watched the horrifying images, he thanked God for Sophia.
Holding her hand in his was like holding onto a lifeline after a shipwreck. The
shock had caused her to lose every scrap of the Spanish she had acquired since
July. [2]  She sat beside him, silent except for an occasional "My God" in
English.

"Fernando," she finally asked, "what kind of man could do such a thing? What
kind of man is this Mercator?"

"He is a madman," said Fernando. "He has become obsessed with Kramer Associates
until the desire to destroy them has consumed him. He has forfeited his soul
for the sake of revenge."

There was a knock on the door, and Arturo, the palace chamberlain, entered.
"Sire," he said, "the Prime Minister wishes an interview."

"Is he here?" asked Fernando. His wife looked at him with mild, very mild,
surprise.  Alexander never came to the private wing the palace. [3]

"No, Sire," said the chamberlain. "He asks that you come to his office."

"Not the Privy Council chamber?" asked the King.

"No, Sire."

Fernando nodded. "Tell him I'll be there directly." He looked at his wife. "It
sounds like the Prime Minister wants to talk to me /alone./ Something's not
right."

His wife gestured silently at the vita.

"I concede your point."  He stood up. "It still seems odd."

As he moved to leave, his wife said, quite naturally, "I'm coming with you."

"Excuse me?" replied the King of New Granada, the keeper of Hispanidad, the
sovereign of Spanish culture.

"You heard me, Ferdi. I'm going with you."

"Uh, Sophia, that's not ..."

She cut him off. "Neither is a private audience with the Prime Minister."

Although he had been married less than three months, Fernando had already
learned the secret to matrimonial harmony.  "I see your point.  I would be
pleased to have you with me, though I should point out that Alexander might
not."

"We'll deal with that when we get to it," Sophia said confidently.

Smiling mischievously, he added, "And assuming your Spanish is up to the task."

"My Spanish is just fine, please," she answered in Spanish.  The Queen gathered
up her dress and took her husband's arm.  They strode out into the hall, the
chamberlain leading the way down the corridors to the public part of the
Palace. The hallways were well-lit and friendly, decorated with avant-garde art
>from New Granada, England, and Spain. [4]

At least the palace was friendly until they moved through a pair of heavy oaken
doors into the misleadingly named "public" part of the palace.  There was
nothing public about it, at least not in the Mexican sense of the word. 
Rather, it was "public" in the sense of being where the Kingdom's "asuntos
publicos," what a Mexican would have called "affairs of state," were conducted.

The public part of the palace was utilitarian and drab, resembing a military
frontier post more than the nerve center of an expanding empire.  Ferdi had
remarked to Sophia that he had finally found the limits of Elbittar's
Anglophilia.  She responded by reminding him about the inadequacy of the Halls
of Parliament, and the modesty of the British prime minister's residence, and
he had realized that the dull gray businesslike nature of the "public" palace
was just a New Granadan translation of that very British modesty.  They entered
Elbittar's office through a simple pine door.

The office itself maintained the Spartan style.  At the far end was a plain
wooden desk with the usual office accessories atop it, as well as a small frame
holding photographs of the Prime Minister's wife and children.  Facing the desk
were two simple chairs with padded seats and backs, resting on a dark blue
carpet.  One wall displayed a framed photograph of Fernando himself; the other
wall held a large map of the world.

In a day full of surprises, the greatest surprise was the change in Elbittar. 
The self-assured, supremely confident man of affairs who had transformed New
Granada from a Mexican puppet to an independent constitutional monarchy was ...
different.  Fernando sought a word to properly describe Elbittar.  "Subdued"
came close, but suddenly the word "worried" suggested itself.  Fernando had
never seen Elbittar worried about anything, ever.

Elbittar waved them in.  There was something almost absent-minded about the
motion. He didn't even seem to notice that Sophia was with the young King. 
This was not the crisp ex-colonel Fernando was accustomed to dealing with.

"Sit."  There was something equally un-Elbittar-like about the curt invitation;
normally the Prime Minister maintained what he considered a properly respectful
formality in his relations with his monarch.  It was a small thing, but
Fernando felt that it spoke volumes about Elbittar's unsettled state of mind. 
He and Sophia sat on the padded chairs, while Elbittar stood beside the desk. 
"Your Majesty," he said, "we have a problem."
 
"Prime Minister?"

"Sire," said Elbittar in a low calm voice, "I need advice.  You are the only
member of the Council with no hidden agenda, the only man I can trust, so you
are the man I must turn to for advice."

For a moment, Fernando was struck by the irony of the situation. 
Traditionally, it was the monarch who asked for the prime minister's advice. 
However, despite Elbittar's best efforts, there was little that was traditional
about the revived Neogranadan monarchy.  "You know that I am always ready to
serve my new homeland any way I can."

"Yes, Your Majesty, I am aware of that.  You have been an exemplary monarch." 
Elbittar seemed to draw some comfort from the thought.  He continued, "I fear
that Colonel Mercator's recent strike against Kramer Associates may have
unfortunate consequences for New Granada."

"What sort of consequences?" asked Fernando.

Elbittar spoke slowly, clearly choosing his words with care.  "We may find
ourselves facing a certain amount of . . . hostility . . . from certain
quarters, if it becomes generally known that Colonel Mercator built his bombs
here."

It took a moment for Fernando to understand what Elbittar was saying. 
"Mercator built his hell bombs /here?/  Here, in New Granada?  Mother of God,
Alexander, what could have possessed you to allow such a thing?"

Elbittar spoke calmly, too calmly for Fernando's peace of mind.  "You fail to
appreciate the situation, Your Majesty.  You would not be here right now were
it not for Mercator. Nor would I."

He paused a moment, then began to pace back and forth in front of them as he
spoke.  "It was right before the coup," he said, "right before we removed the
President.  Augusto and his family were destroying our country, draining the
life from it.  We knew what we had to do, but we did not have the resources we
needed to do it ourselves.  We needed help, and he gave us help.  Supplies,
ships, airmobiles.  Weapons." His voice was almost a monotone.  "And in return,
he wished a secure place in which to finish his work.  Someplace where that
worthless whore of a Mexican President would not be able to stop him.  We
agreed that he would be given the use of Camp Adolfo Camacho."

He came to a halt beneath the map.  Fernando absently noticed an odd detail:
the map's national boundaries were those of the 18th century.  "And this is why
I have asked you here," said the Prime Minister.  "While I can certainly
understand Mercator's desire to strike back against El Pulpo, his use of the
bombs places us in an awkward position.  What sort of reaction can we expect
>from the other nations of the world?"

"For one thing," said Sophia, "this means the end of your alliance with the
United Empire."

Fernando thought at first that Elbittar would simply ignore Sophia.  However,
the British alliance was too important to the Prime Minister's plans for him to
let such a statement go unanswered.  Finally he said, "I fail to see why Sir
Geoffrey Gold would be so intemperate as to end our alliance."

The couple exchanged incredulous glances.  Could the Prime Minister really be
that oblivious to geopolitics?  "When you agreed to the alliance with the
United Empire," Sophia explained, "you were committing New Granada to a place
within a larger structure.  Why do you think Sir Geoffrey was so eager for this
alliance?  Ever since he came to power, he's been pursuing what he calls his
'Grand Alliance' against Germany and Mexico.  He's allied Britain with the
Canton Pact, with the Victorians, even with the Scandinavians."

Rolling her eyes, she added, "He'd like to bring in the North Americans as
well, but getting them to sign a defense treaty is like pulling teeth."

Fixing Elbittar in her gaze again, she concluded, "So when you deposed the
Hermións and took New Granada out of the Mexican bloc, Sir Geoffrey offered a
treaty with you as well.  And you accepted.  Now you are part of his Grand
Alliance, along with Kramer Associates.  If you do not condemn Mercator's
actions, Sir Geoffrey will regard that as an act of bad faith on your part, and
will feel justified in abrogating the treaty."

Elbittar seemed stunned.  "We are /allies/ with Kramer?  With El Pulpo?"

"Of course," said Sophia.

The Prime Minister shook his head.  "You do not understand how Kramer is
regarded within the Hispanidad," he said to her.  "We call it El Pulpo, the
octopus.  Its tentacles are everywhere, strangling local merchants,
monopolizing markets, enslaving all who come within its reach. [5]  There are
many in Latin America who feel that Mercator deserves our thanks for striking a
blow against them."  It was obvious that Elbittar himself thought so.

"That is not how the other nations will see it," said Fernando.  "What they
will see is that a madman has just committed a terrible crime, murdering tens
of thousands of innocent people.  When it becomes known that New Granada has
been aiding him in his monstrous schemes, the whole world will regard us as his
accomplices.  They will certainly suspect us of harboring him, and they will
demand that he be turned over to them."

Fernando paused as a terrible surmise filled his mind.  "Prime Minister, /are/
we harboring him?"

"I do not believe so," said Elbittar.

"You do not /believe/ so?" said Fernando incredulously. "Don't you know?"

Now Elbittar seemed unsure of himself.  Perhaps the enormity of New Granada's
situation was finally sinking in.  "I do not believe so, but it has been some
time since I was last in Ciudad Camacho.  He might be.  I don't know."
 
Fernando nodded.  "The first thing we must do, then, is make certain that
Mercator is /not/ in Ciudad Camacho. We must travel to this," he spoke the
words with distaste, "bomb factory at Camp Adolfo Camacho and see to it that it
is secure. After that . . ." Fernando shook his head. "We must begin what the
North Americans call 'damage control'. Assuming that the damage that has been
done can /be/ controlled."

Fernando looked out the window of the Prime Minister's office at the teeming
city spread out beyond. "If it cannot be controlled, I fear that Bogotá may
suffer the same fate as Bali."

Notes:

[1] Roger Blake of Cape Cod, Massachusetts was one of the few North Americans
to appear regularly in the Mexican fantascience pulp magazines of the "Golden
Era" of 1921-44.  In 1962 Blake patented the idea of placing artificial
satellites in geosynchronous orbit in order to serve as communications relays. 
Since the Royal North American Space Agency began placing such satellites in
orbit, Blake has become a wealthy man.

[2] See FAN #129, "The Language of Love".

[3] The "private wing" of the Royal Palace is made up of those areas where
Fernando and Sophia and their personal servants make their residence. Mindful
of the way the Hermións used the national treasury as their own personal piggy
bank, Fernando has been scrupulous about observing the distinction between his
private expenses as an individual and his public expenses as King of New
Granada.

[4] Sophia was responsible for decorating and her tastes run to the
avant-garde.

[5] Any resemblance to Wal-Mart is strictly coincidental.  Or is it?