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chapter 6
 There must be another way to signal her fellow-prisoner, Orison thought. Tapping? She clicked an S-O-S on the side of a jeep with her pen. Her guard appeared beside her as quickly as before, and took the pen to stick it in his pocket. She was, it appeared, effectively in solitary confinement. Orison stood up to see if the guard minded. Apparently not. She walked about the huge basement. She'd never before seen so much military hardware outside an Armed Forces Day parade. Impressive, all this steel. A ramp led up to a door the size of a barn-side, also steel, bolted. If she could get inside a tank, and close the hatch, and somehow get the monster up that ramp to ram that door, she'd make an impressive call for help, Orison thought. She put one foot atop a tank-tread when a large arm reached around her and set her aside. Her guard, silent-footed, had been following all through her tour.
Orison returned to her cot.
Great deal, she thought. From desk to dungeon in an hour and a half. She'd battled with shadows, earmuffed shadows, and had got herself set in an amateur jail guarded by a pair of purple-eared apes. Nothing to do but wait.
Four feet crashed onto concrete, two figures bowed till the palms of their hands brushed the floor. "T'ink," the newcomer said. The two guards backed to their vehicles and resumed their seats.
"Orison, my dear!" It was Kraft Gerding, all unction and teeth, advancing upon her like the loser at tennis, hand outstretched. "I hope you haven't been unduly discommoded," he said.
"I haven't been commoded at all," Orison said. "No one showed me the way. Would you mind explaining this chivaree to me, Mr. Gerding?"
"I'd be delighted to explain, my dear," Kraft Gerding said, bowing. "May I sit?" he asked, waving a hand toward her cot.
"You may fall on your dreadful face, for all I care," Orison said.
"You must learn to speak like a queen," Kraft said, seating himself on the cot beside her. "Otherwise, of course, you are perfect."
"Of course," Orison said. "I can't say the same for you."
"I grow on one," Kraft said. "You wonder, no doubt, how the William Howard Taft National Bank and Trust Company became a battleground; why many of our employees have ears the color of day-old bruises; why Wanji was so exercised by the color of escudoes; and what the work is that the Microfabridae sing at. No?"
"Yes," Orison said.
"May I smoke?" Kraft Gerding asked, bringing a cheroot from an inner pocket of his fieldmarshal's uniform.
"Smoke, glow, burst into flame. It's all the same to me," Orison said.
Kraft Gerding lit his cheroot with the air of an acolyte igniting incense. Then, puffing, "Accident," he said, "has made you privy to a coup d'etat. Our Empire, you see, is based on porphyrogeniture. Thus my brother, Dink, is the Heir Apparent. I, his elder brother, conceived before our father became Emperor, am merely Margrave of the North, Prince Royal of the House of Dink, Colonel-General of the Forces of the Triple Crown, Grand Duke of the Zilf Archipelago and Holder of the Keys to the Royal City of Chilif."
"How unassuming can you get?" Orison asked.
"Your un-knowledge is deeper than I bethought me," Kraft Gerding said, smiling, scooting a little wester on the cot. Orison moved one hips-breadth further to the west.
"Very well," Kraft said. "As a primer, thus: my brother Dink ger-Dink, heir through accident of tradition to the Triple Crown of Empire; I, his elder, better brother; and our officers and exiles—these latter common criminals, marked for men's contempt with purple ears—constitute the XLIIth Subversion-and-Conquest Task Force of the Empire of Dink. This mighty Empire, for your information, lies some distance off in the southern skies of Earth."
"How far off?" Orison asked.
"As far," Kraft Gerding said, "as all your men since Adam have run in pursuit of beauty." He scooted further west.
Orison made still further westering. "You come from some foreign planet?" she asked.
"No longer foreign, my dear," Kraft said. "Our planet, our triple footstool, welcomes young Earth to share our ancient wisdom and relax under the shadow of our might."
"And I, young Earth, tell you, Kraft Gerding, to go sail a saucer," Orison said.
Kraft Gerding stood up. "Come with me, my dear. I'll show you the greenery that establishes me as Emperor Apparent of the planet Earth." He strode to a steel door, took a key from his pocket, and unlocked it. "Behold!" he said, flinging the door open.
Orison stepped into the basement room, a cube some fifty feet in each dimension. She found herself in a corridor between huge walls of bundled paper. Kraft Gerding, behind her, pried a packet from the wall and handed it to her. "This, my dear Orison, is the lever with which I'll over-turn the Earth," he said.
The bundle was banded with a strip of paper bearing the legend, "$5,000 in 50's." Each bit of paper in the bundle bore the portrait of President U. S. Grant. "This room," Kraft Gerding said, "contains some four hundred million dollars in U.S. currency. I intend with this money, and as much more as I need, to subvert and purchase a nation. The United States will then be the beach-head for the world."
"Counterfeits," Orison said.
"But perfect counterfeits," Kraft said. "The paper was manufactured by the master-craftsmen of Chilif. The inks were compounded by the chemists of that same capital city of Empire. The plates were cut by twenty million engravers, the Microfabridae of the Storm-Planet, supervised by Elder Compassion, an ancient of the slothful race that inhabits the planet nearest our mother sun. This is but one of my treasuries. I have many such. There is the Threadneedle Room, filled with pounds-sterling, in ones, fives, fifties and hundreds. There are other rooms, boxes, trunks and trucks filled with all the currencies of Earth. I am ready now to purchase this planet from............
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