Wednesday, April 27, 2011


            His voice was gentle, utterly at odds with his stentorian physicality. There was no echo, as if the sound waves had been ordered to proceed directly into Rhoth’s inner ear, ignoring the acoustics of the cavernous hold. “I can appreciate the fright you obviously had once you observed the nature of your incarceration,” Zeno continued. “But there’s nothing mystical about it.”
            Zeno produced from his pocket a small vial filled with a milky off-white solution and held it up for Rhoth to see clearly. “It’s merely a variant of our standard brainwash. It leaves the consciousness free to think of its own accord while rendering the body itself susceptible to suggestion. It’s not fully tested yet, but it’s worked so far.”
            Rhoth’s mouth failed to stir, but his eyes blinked furiously, starved for expression. Zeno saw the raucous fluttering. “Speak,” he said.
            Rhoth began to speak. “You admit you had me incarcerated? You’re actually telling the truth for once in your life? Is it too much to hope that you admit that, in doing so, you completely ignored due process and every human right there is and exposed yourself to be a sadistic, dictatorial – ”
            “Be quiet.”
            Rhoth was again silent.
            “Mr. Rhoth, I would like to have a civil discussion with you. Divergent opinions don’t preclude a friendly exchange of ideas. I’ll entertain any notion informed by a measured critical analysis of facts. And failing that, I can even entertain a mere deeply held conviction if it’s rendered with passion and sincerity.” The Sovereign took one step closer to Rhoth. “But I will not entertain an absence of civility and decorum or disrespect shown me in my home.”
            A deathly chill enveloped Rhoth. Reflexively he cast his eyes away from Zeno, personally descrying the inviolate will that had made Zeno the most powerful and feared man on Araddor.
            Zeno crossed his arms. “What say you?” he asked.
            Gallantly Rhoth squeaked, “Fuck you.”
            Rhoth’s eyes snapped shut. His head jerked back. His spine arched. He loosed a scream that would curdle the blood of demons. There was no smoke, no fire. Yet Meako Rhoth burned to the marrow of his bones. His muscles seized with the blind terror of fleeing rats. His toes and fingers shot spread-eagled in unconscious panic, trying to escape the immaterial inferno. Rhoth felt his tears evaporate in the blaze as they escaped the iron clench of his eyes. He couldn’t speak, couldn’t think. He could only wish for the agony to end, extinguished by the blessed reprieve of ice-cold death.
            And the pain stopped.
            “Please don’t make me do that again,” said the Sovereign. “We have no shortage of test subjects and that’s not why I had you brought here.”
            Rhoth’s breathing continued to stutter in a gagging tremolo, his gun-shy tendons still twitched, but the incendiary anguish was gone. He felt only the residual pain of its memory. As his breathing steadied, his nerves calmed, and his capacity for rational thought returned; Rhoth noticed Zeno standing before him, peaceful and still – waiting.
            Zeno reached into his pocket and retrieved a mobile ComNet receiver. “This is why I had you brought here, Mr. Rhoth. Watch and listen.”
            Zeno switched on the receiver. A small disc of white swirled outward from the center of the receiver. A brief flicker of anthropomorphic light blinked above the white disc and was replaced by a video feed.
            Rhoth silently watched himself sit at his desk and address his ComNet optical capture device. The old Mharahkyte standard of the ancient free tribes was draped across the wall behind him. Rhoth, recognizing his clothes, knew he was about to watch his most recent address. It had been a good one with only a few turns of phrase he wished he had taken the time perfect. But Rhoth could see his audience’s heads nod in agreement and he warmed to the impassioned talk he knew his address had provoked.

     Good people of Araddor, welcome once again to Truth to Power. I started this ComStream four years ago based on a single self-evident truth: speaking truth to power is a vital component of any free society. I believed that four years ago and I still believe it today. But despite all my scathing criticisms of the Trontaarian Dynasty; despite the litany of sins they’ve compiled on their path to imperial hegemony; despite the crimes I’ve unearthed and the cover-ups I’ve exposed; despite even my particularly enthusiastic animus toward our current Sovereign, Zeno the Leech; I’ve never suspected we were in danger of losing our capacity to speak truth to power… until today.
         As you obviously know – especially if you’re a regular viewer of this ComStream – over the past two years Zeno has repeatedly amended the various statutes of his quote-unquote Treason Laws, which is a patriotic enough-sounding term. But then you actually read the things and you see how backhandedly despotic they are. First, he made it treasonable to claim the gods and religious conviction as motive for protest. Now granted, Zeno did this to prevent the resurgence of the Theocrats, so everyone just blindly went along with it. It’s understandable considering the Theocrats’ abuses were still fresh in people’s minds – which Zeno saw to thanks to clever rhetoric and effective propaganda. Then he made it treasonable for the temples and shrines to withhold the rolls of attendants and minutes of ceremonies from his bootlicking Auditors. Then Zeno used the millennial anniversary of the Hundred Steps – and made a much bigger to-do of its coming than any previous Sovereign – to amend the laws to state that any Oligarch whose actions are detrimental to the general economic stability of Araddor can be charged with treason. He claims this is to prevent abuses of power for the sake of greed. Talk about abuses of power!
        Which brings us to today. This morning The Leech issued an edict further amending the laws he loves so much, he can’t stop changing them. Effective immediately Zeno now has the power to bring under sovereignty control any enterprise he considers to be a threat to planetary security. Now, I asked myself, what’s the point behind this new statute? No leader of commerce or industry would risk losing their company when they can already be executed for abusing their power. So why would Zeno make this law? I’ll tell you why: to bring under his personal control the one human enterprise that does not affect the economy and has no central figure of authority. The one enterprise that always has been and continues to be owned, operated, and maintained by the good people of Araddor…
         This ComNet!
     From its inception the ComNet has been the bastion of personal expression and individual liberty across Araddor. The Prototype ComNet was first developed to allow the original free tribes to better communicate with one another. So without the ComNet the Assembly of States might never have been formed.  The ComNet then proved its value when it was used by those who dared to stand up against the Oligarchs. It was how the Army of the Faithful was able to coordinate and mobilize. Thanks to the ComNet brave patriots like you and me were able to disseminate the Theocrats’ abuses and stir up enough unrest to bring about their downfall.
        Zeno is a lot of things, but he’s not an idiot. He knows the ComNet is a weapon to be used against him, and he knows he can’t arrest everyone who goes on and makes light of him. So, rather than stop the people from communicating, he’ll just stop the means of communication.
          Good people of Araddor, it is our responsibility and right to –

         Zeno flicked a switch on the receiver. A snap of light, a thin hiss, and the ComStream disappeared. “Your closing is a little on the saccharine side,” Zeno said, “but that’s neither here nor there for the time being. Would you like some water?”
Rhoth tried to defiantly meet Zeno’s unconcerned face.
Zeno asked him, “Say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ ”
            Rhoth swallowed hard. “Yes.”
       Zeno motioned to one of the guards. The guard approached Rhoth and placed his flask to the prisoner’s lips.
        Rhoth hadn’t realized how parched his throat was until Zeno had offered refreshment. The cool water rejuvenated and calmed Rhoth as it flowed into his mouth, sweet as honey. A moment later, the guard removed the flask and returned to his master’s side. Rhoth instinctively tried to stretch his neck after the receding water to no affect.
            “I had you brought to me,” Zeno started, “because I’d like to offer you a job.”

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


           The planet Araddor drifted quietly, peacefully along its flawlessly elliptical orbit. It shone through the void of space like a bejeweled medallion. The warm pale blue oceans hugged the planet against the cold blackness that surrounded it. The gleaming jade and evergreen of its pullulating continents sparkled with an ebullient madrigal that sang across the galaxy. Araddor was the birthplace of democracy. Settlers had emigrated from the planet and slowly ingratiated themselves into hundreds of other worlds, bringing the notion of republican governance with them. Araddor’s legacy was one of freedom and prosperity. The eyes spread across those hundreds of worlds all looked to Araddor for their lead. How her fortune turned so did the galaxy’s.
            Her capital city was Aruluea. It was the sparkling jewel of Araddor and burned brighter in the hearts of the people than a thousand mercury lanterns. It was the cradle of their civilization, the living legacy of its august founders. The founding of the city, and the concurrent founding of the Assembly of States, marked the earnest beginning of Araddor’s history. It was in the original home of the Assembly that the servers for Araddor’s Communication Network were housed. It was in Aruluea, at the Utraxan Bridge, that the mighty nobles of old had repelled the barbarian hordes, turning the tide of the First War, and ensured for future generations the mastery of their collective destiny. It was on the Hundred Steps of the Mint of Aruluea that the Army of the Faithful had defeated the Oligarchs and the puppets they had placed in power. On that day Aruluea had cast off four hundred years of corruption and adopted a system governed by honesty and piety. It was at the heart of Aruluea, at the foot of the Golden Temple of Orhn, where the Army of Araddor’s fabled Ninth Battalion had obliterated eight hundred years of Theocratic tyranny and its commanding officer, the great General Trontaar, had planted the wicked High Priest’s head on a pike. With that noble act, Trontaar had ushered in a bright new age of sagacity and reason. And one hundred years later – to the day, on the very same spot – it had been Trontaar’s great-great grandson Zenofias who signed into law the annexation of the Northern Outliers, making himself the undisputed Sovereign of Araddor and birthing the Five Thousand-Year Peace.
            Aruluea was the progenitor of stability and progress, the province of wisdom and strength. All that was right and good flowed through her gates – the lifeblood of the light of the world.
            Meako Rhoth regained consciousness. His eyes stung as he struggled to open them, but the lids refused to part. Rhoth thought to wipe the adhesive grime of sleep from his eyes. He tried to raise his hand to his face but found his arms unresponsive. His breathing became stunted and confused as he found his legs immobile as well. His head was his only movable extremity. Blind, crippled and barely conscious he sucked in air erratically, desperately attempting to writhe free of whatever bonds were incapacitating him. He wined and cried as he helplessly thrashed about his head to no effect.
            Rhoth felt a droplet of warm thick liquid fall upon his lower lip and snatched it with the tip of his tongue. It tasted salty, arid. Only after his tears had lubricated his eyelids could Rhoth identify the liquid to be blood from his eyes. His tears had saturated the dried blood and carried it in rivulets down his swollen lacerated face. He was able to wrench apart his eyelids and see through a pink blurring film.
            He was in a dark acrid space, less a room than an architectural mutation. It was a harlequin patchwork of steel, stone, wood and earth. Roots and cables snaked along the windowless walls in equal proliferation. The floor was a solid slab of concrete adorned with the stains of years of spilt bodily fluids. The only source of light was a single blistering halogen lamp overhead.
            Rhoth saw no one, heard nothing. Panic set in as he began to hyperventilate and his quivering gasps of protest grew thinner and garroted.
            “Calm yourself,” a disembodied voice told him.
            Rhoth immediately stopped squirming. His muscles relaxed. His breathing settled to a calmed tempo. His fright erupted, however, when he looked down and saw his body standing freely in the middle of the room, unshackled but nonetheless paralyzed.
            Rhoth frantically looked around his cell for the source of the commanding voice. “Who are you?” he shouted in cracking speech. “Where am I? What…”
            “Be quiet.”
            Rhoth, despite his every effort and intention, shut his mouth.
            From beyond the halogen’s penumbra sounded the soft deliberate encroachment of footsteps. A pair of Palatial Guards stepped into the light’s conical spread. The blue of the halogen bounced off the silver of their armor. It died against the black of their rifles. The Guards stopped, but from behind them another set of footprints drew closer.
            Into the light stepped Zeno III, 16th Sovereign of Araddor. He was tall, muscular, barrel-chested and even more imposing than he appeared on the ComNet. His thick gray beard blanketed his face. He looked every bit the impregnable human bulwark capable of repelling human invaders and natural catastrophes alike. Draped in the crimson and purple finery of Araddor’s elite and replete with the regalia of the office of Sovereign, the man cut a genuinely mythic figure. Rhoth saw a man of impressive gravity, cunning, and lethality. He watched Zeno approach him with a numbing soupcon of fear, hatred and awe.
            The Sovereign of Araddor stopped two feet from Rhoth’s unresponsive body and smiled. “It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr. Rhoth,” he said. “I’m hoping I can appeal to your sense of reason with what I intend to propose.”

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


            She never meets their eyes. Every eye is a swarm of insects. Her every move – every sway, whorl, and undulation of her flesh – draws a dozen voracious clouds buzzing with insatiable arousal. She is struck by an onslaught of pawing, probing waves. She feels every pincer tug, every mandible grope at her erogenous zones. She watches their entomical fantasies play out upon her skin. She scratches at herself. She feels unclean.