Fiction

Promotion

The room was warm and breezy, salted air blowing through the huge balconies which looked out onto the paradise island. In the later years of his administration, the Leader had chosen to spend more and more of the year at this residence, built to his own specifications in the warmer southern climates.

The young captain looked out from one of the balconies, eyes narrow in the growing twilight. Without turning, he dismissed the other officers who had come to pay tribute to the elderly Leader, architect of the Empire and all-father, who now lay in repose before them all as his life ebbed away. The officers offered no argument, and politely departed through the grand doorway. Many of these men and women outranked the young captain but tipped their caps regardless. As the last of them departed the young captain turned and eyed the Imperial Guardsmen who stood beside the door and dismissed them with the slightest gesture. They returned an eager salute before turning to depart as well. They offered the Leader no gesture of fealty.

Now it was just the young captain, the Leader and the captain’s bodyguard. The bodyguard made a series of facial gestures which suggested a great deal of information to the captain, related to events in the senate and assurances of support from the right Houses. A final twist of the brow asked a final, potent question regarding the man who lay before them, answered swiftly by a confident nod of the head. Satisfied, the bodyguard departed as well, stopping in the doorway to turn and dramatically pull the doors closed behind him.

Now it was just the two of them, the Leader who had risen up amidst the chaos which had once engulfed their nation and forged a regime which had spread across the entire globe, and the young captain who remembered the day, some years previous, when the dear Leader had congratulated him on his promotion. He had shook his hand then with the warmth of a proud father, and assured the young captain that his loyalty and the determination with which he had helped purge the senate of dissenting factions would be greatly rewarded in the years to come. The young captain had felt tremendous pride, tempered by the hunger which had haunted him his entire life. Nothing seemed to satisfy it, yet as he climbed the ranks of the administration he sensed that he was closing in on that mysterious flavour he had craved his whole life.

After years of work, everything was now in place. He had had to sacrifice much in this pursuit, and betray a great many who were loyal to him. He had secretly arranged for the failings and hardships which beset his peers and competitors for rank, had bought votes and favours with kindness, generosity and brutal intimidation. He had murdered for this. By the time the sun had set, the announcements would begin. The sun now cast a deep, warm light across the room as it began to sink beneath the cyan sea.

Dissenters and guardsmen with misguided loyalties would be shot in the streets, hanged from the bellowers. Banners bearing his likeness would stream down from the highest structures of the capital. The captain had even composed a new anthem, drawing upon artistic stylings of the Empire’s founding nation, to play from every accessible speaker in the world upon his coronation.

There was just one last loose end. The approached the Leader’s bedside and looked down at his aged face. Lines and scars which told epic stories. Of a young man, brutalised in a lost war but capable and willing to stand up and unite his people, to spread the their culture across the globe and finally establish lasting peace. Who knew which were true stories and which were propaganda? He wondered for a moment how much of history he would revise when his rule began; how charitable should he be to his predecessor? The old man, withered before his time, had began to suspect the slow poison near the end; there was no good explanation for why his health was deteriorating so rapidly. He was suddenly unable to perform duties which had until recently been casual, but luckily he had always had officers and retainers nearby to help him and lead him to rest. All of them loyal to the young captain.

The captain leaned across the Leader for a moment and took a pillow. He gave it a single fluff, and pushed it down onto the Leader’s face. He didn’t give much resistance; by the time he realised what was happening and began to claw at the captain’s face he was too weak to even visibly scratch him. After a minute of silence the young Leader drew back the pillow. Already dark bruises were appearing on the dead man’s eyelids, but the morticians would fix that. Or maybe he’d just burn the damn thing and put a waxwork in a case of formaldehyde for people to see. He smiled at all the new freedoms which unfurled before him like the petals of a magnificent flower, and turned to leave the room, now unlit and still in the embryonic night. The Leader is dead; long live the Leader.

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Fiction

Gratitude

The War was a distant memory, but it’s fires still smouldered. The world that once was had passed away in a blinding flash that had burned impressions of those who came before against whatever walls still stood. Recovered texts speak of cities that stretched for miles, across and above, places that never slept, a global community in constant communication. This had passed on.

We were indentured labourers in Warlord Mafu’s army, adopted by the conquerers who had razed and absorbed the tribes we each belonged to. Mafu was fond of great projects and rallies, and at such a rally had tasked us, his Not-Quite-Slaves, with clearing the debris from one of the forsaken ranges. These places had once been the mythical cities spoken of in old texts, and were nearly impassable. The rubble that took up all the space had been there since the Great Fire, and was strewn about maddeningly, making it impossible for any kind of large formation to pass through it efficiently. Mafu coveted the farms and fertile women of the western tribes, so tasked us with clearing the way for his armies.

For this, he announced from his platform magnanimously, we would know his Gratitude.

The work was punishing; every day workers fell, malnourished and broken. Most of the lifting and dragging had to be done by hand, as the soldiers refused to lend their vehicles to the cause and reduce the number of patrols. Brick, stone, granite, steel, glass; sophisticated materials whose intricacies had been mostly forgotten, now just sad broken toys. Workers would be crushed by falling masonry, cut themselves on rust and succumb to infection, starve to death where they stood. Disease ran through the ranks of those who worked the forsaken range; people grew ragged and thin, their hair fell out in clumps.

Eventually the field was cleared enough that Mafu announced the project a triumph, and we used the last of our strength to cheer his chariots as they tore off down the fresh pathway to pillage and reave.

We were ferried, exhausted and famished, to a clearing we had not been tasked with. Before us lay a huge pit in the earth, which was already half-full of the bruised, skeletal corpses of our brothers and sisters. On the other side of the pit stood a large white banner, with a single word etched across it in black:

GRATITUDE

We turned just in time to see the rifles of the soldiers behind us roar.

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