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Air Brushed

 "The United Peoples Headquarters, formerly known as the Grand Imperial Palace by its previous owners, was at the center of a dense urban maze sprawled out from the ancient citadel. The centuries-old walls and turret towers were occupied by guards equipped with modern submachine guns. The archway and iron gate were replaced by a steel one that slid on an electric rail. 

In the south-facing wing of the palace was a former servants' kitchen that had been converted into a photo lab and office for the Supreme Executive's official photographer, Doctor Krutzov. Krutzov had been in the Supreme Executive's service long before the great leader had even thought the title up. 

Krutzov had been in that photo lab for nearly 22 years. He had followed the godfathers of the national revolution into the temple of power. They fortified their position taking care not to repeat the mistakes of the regime they overthrew. 

Krutzov had passed into old age inside the walls of the headquarters. The hair on the back of his head had stubbornly stuck in his scalp, but the rest had fallen away. His skin had wrinkled, and his always small eyes seemed to be shrinking as the frames of his glasses grew.

Krutzov was having a busy week with the Supreme Executive's latest damnatio memoria. 

Krutzov's position put him at the head of this effort. Statues aren't smashed in the modern version of this mode of personal eradication; instead, photographs are gently altered.

People were erased every day, but most would be forgotten as quickly as their families could be killed. A select few faces, though, required Kurtzov's direction if they were to be erased from public sight and the national memory.

Sometimes a recent persona non grata was very well known. Sometimes the non-entity in question was a person the Supreme Executive had known for years and had been photographed with on numerous occasions over the years.

Kruzev spent the last three weeks tirelessly combing the national archives for every photo of the Supreme Executive with the offender. They were to be airbrushed out and never mentioned again.

Kruzev had already produced several photos of the Supreme Executive shaking hands with the air, looking thoughtfully at a wall, and standing at an awkward distance from other people. The final portrait was a group photo of the Supreme Executive at the center of his old entourage. Well, that's what it had been a picture of. Time had reduced the 7 ministers in the photo to just three people placed seeming at random. 

Kruzev thought about his own dwindling circle of confidants. Though most of them had been done in by old age and illness. He supposed it was just the same that even the greatest men ultimately leave this world alone.

Kruzev's contemplation was interrupted by a knock at the door. He set the photo down.

"Come in!" he called.

Two giant guards entered the room and flanked the door. The one on the right stepped forward.

"It is my duty and an extreme pleasure to announce the presence of the Supreme Executive! First in the party, Grand marshall of the nation, and -

"That will be enough. He's heard all of this before."

The Supreme Executive shuffled through the door. He was never as large as the official portraits were meant to lead people to believe, but he seemed to be shrinking in his old age. He had stooped shoulders, a slight humpback, beady black eyes, and a thick plume of coarse snow-white hair. He looked more like a kindly old grandfather than a revolutionary warlord. He was dressed in a simple tunic adorned with shimmering party orders and military medals.

Kruzev stood up as quickly as his old bones would allow and saluted.

The Supreme Executive smiled. "As you were."

"To what do I owe the honor of your presence?" Kruzev asked.

"I just wanted to check on the project of your recent special project."

"I've just finished, your excellency. Have a look."

The Supreme Executive took out a pair of glasses from his breast pocket. 

"Don't tell anyone you saw me using these, or it's your head." He said to Kruzev with a smile

Kruzev chuckled. The Supreme Executive had taken to joking around more in his old age. Kruzev supposed it was because he was confident he'd outlasted all his enemies.

The Supreme Executive examined the pictures. "Very good," he muttered. Finally, he came to the last photo, the group photo. The great leader held the picture up and studied it for a moment.

"Didn't there used to be a few more people in this photograph?"

Kruzev thought hard about his answer. "No, sir, I don't believe so."


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