Coup the Stage

Shortly after sunset they barricade the bridges separating the palace and the city center. Elite forces form a crescent around the central command while tanks position themselves at the north edge of Vlaxerton Square. Perimeter guards are apprehended by special units without a single shot fired. The tanks roll up to the palace and a great cry erupts from the streets: “Xixa zhe Bellacosa!!”

As flares rise into the sky and fireworks explode over the river, onlookers recall the ancient days when it would have been rockets and bombs.

In Avet, the term to describe the military takeover of a corrupt government is no different from our own: the staging of a coup d’état.

But the word staging has been used literally for hundreds of years, following the first significant coup attempt by Sergeant Major Renaldo von Lazar Bellacosa during the Age of the Plastic Dinosaur–a coup which collapsed shortly after 48 hours of intense radiation bombardment and negative psychic badgering aimed at the capitol. The army was just creeping out into the verge of victory when a false surrender sprung the trap to capture Bellacosa, who was forced to recant before a crowd of heartbroken supporters.

The next attempted coup occurred eight years later, sparked as it turns out by Bellacosa’s son. He failed even more miserably and was buried beside his father.

Fifteen years later the grandson got in on the game, but since he’d never had any children the Bellacosa tradition was put to rest alongside his head.

As the Age of the Plastic Dinosaur rolled over to the Age of the Varicose Carabiner, Avet suffered the longest period of continuous economic recession in recorded history–with entire stock markets pulverized and ground into goulash, bankers strung up on flagpoles, and new forms of ethereal capital devaluing the old. Whispers of revolution put on pants and shoes and wandered out to become cries in the street. For the first time in years, Zhenya Awande Krepelton Ruffcorn, Overlord Protector of Avet, began to worry about his position. After his every concession was rebuffed, inspiration struck.

Ruffcorn would stage a coup d’état against himself, instructing a loyal military Captain to feign Bellacosan ancestry and rise up against the capitol. The coup would be crushed, the rebels confounded, meager concessions given, and time purchased.

It worked like a charm.

So well, in fact, that the Overlord Protector’s successor Clyde Pustuloso Ruffcorn employed the same scheme to preempt a genuine (non-Bellacosan) coup on the verge of its execution.

In time, the counterfeit coup became part of the government’s typical tactical tool belt, employed to resolve so many situations that academics and strategists launched entire University programs to study and predict their implementation. Once, dissenters even tried using the new normal to their advantage when an upstart Colonel led a legit coup to subvert the by-then almost-on-the-verge-of-routine mid-summer artificial coup, using the state-sponsored staged event as a kind of shield for raiding parliament like a naked phantom leaping out of a giant birthday cake. The Overlord barely got out of that one with his head. The Colonel did not, however, and no such coup-within-a-coup was tried again. The state’s elaborately reflexive renditions continued, increasing in flamboyance and regularity through the ages until they had evolved into a scheduled ceremony and a workers paid day off.

For over a hundred generations of relative stability this ceremony, now called Bellacosa Day to be hosted on one specific weekend chosen for its probability of pleasant weather, served as an abatement of political pressure. Each year Avet’s Overlord would pretend to overthrow himself, and the people would pretend to believe it was real.

But all stabilities eventually slip from orbit. Decadence in the regime and the aristocracy brought about a new economic downturn, which was bitterly and spitefully ignored by the power structure as nobles hoarded wealth to weather the storm that was swallowing millions of ordinary lives in war, disease, and starvation.

Overlord Protector Ampersand Cheng Gunderson Ruffcorn, a weasley little king who hadn’t used his own legs in over half his life and always went out riding on the shoulders of emaciated, pregnant slaves, refused to even promise reform. He blamed the poor for their poverty and enacted conscription laws that doubled the draft and expanded the age of eligibility. He had journalists arrested, while other voices of opposition simply disappeared. On the seventh year of his reign, when Bellacosa Day arrived and the ceremony of the coup d’état was scheduled to begin, Ruffcorn donned his royal outfit and went out to meet the challenge of his faux rebellious army.

But he found the courtyard empty. No tanks, no soldiers, no protestors.

Outraged, Ruffcorn summoned a pregnant phantom, climbed on her shoulders and forced her out into the vacant streets. By the time he reached the market square the king’s face was drenched with tears and his cries echoed through the city. At first he demanded the traditional routine, threatening executions for everyone and anyone if he didn’t get it, but soon he began to tremble and stutter. He offered outrageous concessions in exchange for things just getting back to normal. Did they not understand? It was Bellacosa Day. For the good of all Avet he needed his mock victory. There seemed no ear willing to listen. At dawn he climbed down off the woman and crawled on his hands and knees through the desolate slums and alleys. Amid screams of panic and terror he vowed to yield his fortune and abdicate his throne, but still no one came forth, not even to put him out of his misery.

It’s not clear what became of Ruffcorn that day, but legend suggests he may have wandered into the forest to become a holy man, or perhaps he dissolved upon the howling wind.

He was the last Overlord Protector in Avet’s history.