Narcissus Turncoatius, the First Man in Rome, was having his slave scrape from his sole a malodourous manningclark when a Fair Fax minced in, bearing a scroll. “Oh, Great One,” it piped, settling itself on his knee after licking his sandals quite clean, “there is disturbing news from the by-election. There has been a 13% swing against the Patrician Party,” it simpered.
Turncoatius maintained his Imperial impassivity.
“How many votes did the Plebians get?”
“That is the disturbing thing, Oh Great One. The Plebians did not even field a candidate! Some traitors are making so bold as to say the vote was a …”
The Fair Fax’s nerve failed it. It could not repeat to the Emperor’s face that some had suggested this was a protest against Turncoatius’s assassination of his predecessor. The spangled creature slid off his knee and backed trembling into a corner.
Narcissus Turncoatius maintained his composure with an effort. He was magnanimous, and although it had brought him unwelcome news, he would allow the Fair Fax to live, and to keep its ears and digitals and decaying parchments. The Fair Faxes were, along with the Ay Beecees, his most valuable and compliant supporters. He had spent years cultivating both organisations, under his unsuspecting predecessor’s nose, in preparation for his coup.
Besides, there was another matter requiring his attention: the ghost of his assassinated predecessor was said to have risen. It had appeared before a gathering in distant Britannia, and now had reappeared again to call on both the Persians, ancient enemies of the whole Mediterranean world, and the bearded barbarians from Arabia, to reform the religious practice of human sacrifices to their god.
The ghost was said to have called for a hearts-and-minds campaign against the versions of barbarism that made excuses for religious murder. Narcissus Turncoatius shook his head sadly. The bearded barbarians had, after all, made great contributions to civilization, inventing the arch, the dome, hot baths and aqueducts. Such, at least, was history as he preferred it. The barbarians did not need Rome’s cultural supremacists to tell them what they needed!
Thoughts of aqueducts recalled to his mind yet another pressing problem. A number of prominent astrologers had claimed the sky was falling. Certainly, it had shown no signs of falling yet, and the degenerate Greek philosophers and astronomers of Alexandra thought differently, but something must be done to show the mob that the Emperor was taking the matter seriously. He called back the Fair Fax, who was trying to sneak away unremarked, and began to dictate (he thought highly of himself as a dictator) a proclamation for the simpering creature to copy.
“In light of this terrible threat to the whole human race,” he dictated, “we will first abolish all cooking fires. This will mean there will be no more smoke to weaken the sky.
“Second, we will abolish horses and chariots, so the sky will not be affected by the impact on the ground of horses’ hoofs, and the vibration of chariot wheels.
“Third, we will build massive pillars, several miles high, to hold up the sky.
“This will cost more sesterces than there are in the Treasury, or indeed in the Empire, but I have taken steps. All mines will be closed to make more slaves available for this more pressing task; I have ordered the Imperial mint to stamp out millions more coins. Further to pay for this great undertaking, I propose to levy a number of new taxes.
“Fourth, I have ordered the slave-masters to increase their quotas. We shall not be beaten by petty obstacles. The whole future of the world and mankind demands we do no less.”
The Fair Fax giggled and scampered to have the proclamation copied.
Narcissus Turncoatius relaxed on his couch. How fortunate is Rome, he thought, to have such a one as he at the helm of the Ship of State.
Cato Seotonius is a spiritual forebear of Hal G.P. Colebatch, who translated this account to modern English