Wednesday, May 18, 2011


            The dungeon seemed to grow smaller with the passing of each boundless day. The air grew into a fetid marsh. Meako Rhoth sweat through the swampy cloud. He felt his skin cocoon within a film of grime. An olfactory broth of mold, decay, body odor and human waste swirled about the cell and brought up Rhoth’s empty stomach. Beyond the walls the whir of intakes and exhausts began to set his hair on end. His teeth chattered with the clinking of turbines. He flinched at each crackle of circuitry. His ears started to ring. The geometry began to look foreign.
            Rhoth saw the optical capture device before him. Within the lens of the ComNet Rhoth saw his acolytes aligned in battle formation. A battalion of eyes adrift on an ocean of silent desperation stared back at their leader.
            Rhoth raised his head to the sound of his fanfare. His back stood straight as his upraised standard. The pain and sickness washed away as Rhoth began to speak. “Good people of Araddor, thank you. I know you’ve all been troubled by my recent silence. But I assure you, I am more resolved than ever to eradicate Zeno’s regime. My incarceration has not broken me in the slightest. Rather, I am now emboldened. My imprisonment has betrayed Zeno’s fear. He knows that we are a threat to his tyranny, and he has made me a living martyr. I am the proof of Zeno’s barbarism. Together we can drive the monster from power forever. Let us conclusively unite and cast his embers to the winds!”
            The crowd roared and surged forward. Rhoth was swept up by the wave of followers. He rode the crest of his disciples’ shoulders, washed over by their chanting: “MEAKO! MEAKO! MEAKO! MEAKO!”
            It was not long before the cell door swung open. The light from the corridor dispelled the hallucinations. Zeno; his arms crossed, his face hard as iron; and his guards took their place.
            Rhoth marshaled every ounce of will. He stood tall, his chest puffed valiantly, as he met his captor’s eyes.
            “You are strong, Mr. Rhoth. I have to commend you. It’s been a long time since someone down here has defied me so stubbornly. But it’s high time we got this over with.”
            Rhoth braced himself for the end.
            The Sovereign approached slowly. “Someone – I don’t remember who – once told me that anger is just fear directed outwardly. I remembered that the other day. I was questioning one of my administrators about some trivial malfeasance. He acknowledged that he’d broken my laws. But he refused to admit that what he had done was wrong. He called it a victimless crime. He would not see the logic behind my reasoning. I lost my temper and had him flayed alive. It was an over-reaction that I immediately regretted.
            “I wasn’t mad at him. I was afraid of you. I’ve been trying to reason with you. I thought that I could muster an argument salient enough that even you would be forced to recognize its correctness.
            “But that never works, does it? At the end of the day we’re all emotional creatures. My former administrator would testify to that if he could. I was afraid I was losing control. You’ve succeeded in unmanning me as few ever have. I realized then that I had to prey upon your fears as you have, unwittingly, preyed upon mine. But was it that you fear? What is it you most value? I wrestled with these questions for some time. I thought of all our conversations, examined your every nuanced reaction to what I said or did. I thought of all you said. I kept coming back to the premium you place on the liberty of the people. That ultimately is how I arrived at the answer. I had to laugh when I figured it out, it was so poetic.”
            Zeno produced his ComNet receiver.
            “Just as my strength has its source, so does yours.”
            The cone of light shot from the receiver, blanketing Rhoth’s field of vision. He trembled as he watched himself deliver an address he had never made.

            Hello, good people of Araddor, and welcome once more to Truth to Power. Firstly I want to apologize for my protracted absence. I assure you that I am in fine health and even better spirits. This evening won’t be comprised of my traditional polemics like you would expect. Instead I have a message of the utmost importance to deliver – one to which I hope you’ll be receptive.
For the past few years I’ve dedicated myself to exposing what I believed to be the crimes of our Sovereign Zeno. Some of you may not have agreed with everything I’ve said. But I want all of you to know that everything I have said has been for the good of our society and our planet at large. Truth to Power was created to inform you, the public of Araddor, of what is happening in our world, so that you could decide how to govern your lives for yourselves. I make this announcement in that same spirit.
I’ve recently had the opportunity to speak with Zeno face-to-face. The Sovereign was gracious enough to grant me an audience. We spoke at length on a number of issues, and I’m delighted to tell you that, as well intentioned as my past vitriol was, I have been unfair to Zeno. Since speaking with him I’ve discovered that our aims are one and the same, even if our opinion of means have deferred.
Our Sovereign has magnanimously invited me to join him in crafting a future for Araddor that will please all her citizens regardless of faith, economic standing, or regional origin. I can say with utmost confidence that Zeno has your best interests at heart, and I intend to help him make our world a place where every one of her inhabitants can realize the life they have always wanted for themselves. I ask you all to –

            Zeno abruptly returned the ComNet receiver to his pocket. “It gets worse from there, but you get the point,” he said.
            Terror welled beneath Rhoth’s eyes.
            “Work for me covertly, and not only will you enjoy material comfort beyond your dreams, but you will be able to oppose me openly and vehemently as you like.” Zeno stood an inch from his captive’s face. “Stay your misguided course,” he continued, “and that address will be distributed across the ComNet. I personally will make sure that every media outlet makes it their top story for days. Every man, woman, and child on this planet will see it. There will be no martyrdom for you. No one will praise you in song. No one will dramatize your heroic sacrifice. No one will regard you a hero. You will be an object lesson to all who challenge me. You will be a demonstration of how easily the enemies of peace and order can be cowed and co-opted. And your audience? They will call you a coward and a turncoat. They will regard you a traitor to their cause, a craven toad who sacrificed his principles and the will of countless others for his own well-being.”
            Zeno plunged the antidote to the stasis into Rhoth’s neck.
Rhoth immediately collapsed on the floor. With more strength than he had possessed in weeks, Rhoth let out an anguished cry. As he pulled his knees to his chest, his heart and will shattered. He was vulnerable as a newborn infant. He sobbed openly, loudly. His tears poured down his face and swam in the dried pools of strange bodily fluids.
Zeno towered over his defeated form. “What say you?”
Rhoth never looked up. “Yes,” he moaned.
“It’s always about power, Mr. Rhoth,” Zeno informed his new ally. “Even to you.”

The planet Araddor floated along its orbit through the space. The warm blues and greens of the planet shielded the cold virginal void from the fires that raged beyond it. The blackness spied life at peace on the small quiet globe, unaware of the tumultuous savagery from which it springs. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


     Rhoth had no way to gauge the passage of time. His cell contained no window or clock. He could have been there for hours or weeks. His guards were far from forthcoming with information. They responded to most of Rhoth’s entreaties with a punch to the face. A request for some kind of makeshift toilet had earned him a broken nose. Rhoth was forced to remain standing in the spot in which he had first regained consciousness. His legs ached, punctured by an endless volley of pins and needles. But to Rhoth’s growing discomfort, his legs held fast. The pain in his feet became impossible to ignore. He envisioned an anvil driving them into the stone floor with ever-increasing pressure. Sweat seeped into his soles. They pruned until they blistered and cracked. Rhoth could feel the fungi invade his open wounds. He allowed his head to droop in relief until that relief became its own torture; Rhoth imagined the weight of his head snapping his vertebrae. He could no longer control his bowels. He developed a fever and numerous infections from basting in his own waste. His exhaustion was peppered with bouts of sleep so brief and restless, they were more mockery than respite.
     Only Zeno’s periodic visits broke the agonizing monotony of Rhoth’s incarceration. “Why do you believe as you do?” he asked Rhoth during one visit. “Why should personal liberty be paramount? That’s not a rhetorical question. I would genuinely like to hear your honest answer.”
     Rhoth swallowed and felt a hundred razors tumble down his esophagus. He answered in an anguished rasp, “It… it’s jungle law without it.”
“It’s jungle law at any rate,” Zeno countered. “As a species we have not risen as far as you like to believe. Look at how children treat each other. They identify the weakest of the pack and pounce on him.”
       Rhoth’s skin bubbled with goose bumps.
     “That behavior is not instilled,” said Zeno. “It’s instinctive. Did you know that if the male in certain species of seals is unable to find a willing mate, he resorts to rape?”
     “Laws are…” Rhoth coughed out. “Laws are meant… to protect us from our… from our basest instincts.”
     “Of course. That’s how we maintain a civilization. But we do not all adhere to those rules, do we? And those who do not adhere, we punish.”
     Rhoth looked up at Zeno in confusion. Where was he going with this?
      “Those who break the law…” he continued. “Do you suppose they are some aberration? A tragic roll of the genetic dice? Or do you subscribe to that antiquated and irrational idea of a ‘criminal class?’ ”
     Rhoth stared at Zeno.
     “Again, that’s not rhetorical. Is that what you think?”
     Rhoth whispered, “No.”
     “So where do you think criminality comes from?”
   Rhoth’s hackles rose. His eyes narrowed. He quietly, calmly accused, “They feel powerless. Helpless. They have no hope. No options.”
     “Exactly! And you understand that, I’m sure, because you’ve felt that way before. Maybe when you were still young.”
       Rhoth’s goose bumps shot up further.
     “But have you ever broken the law? I mean serious crimes with human victims. Ever robbed someone or committed murder?”
        The defiance disappeared from Rhoth’s face.
    From his pocket Zeno produced a syringe filled with a pale lavender liquid. “This is the antidote to your paralysis,” he said before producing a pistol. “And this is loaded. If I placed this gun in your hand and administered the antidote, even you could pull the trigger and kill me. It’s only you and me in here. No one could stop you. And, according to you, my murder would be an eminently heroic act. You, Meako Rhoth, would be a hero.”
     Rhoth eyed the pistol and, had he not been chemically bound, would have trembled.
      “But you wouldn’t do it. You know that. Why wouldn’t you do it?”
      His eyes locked on the gun, Rhoth said, “Your goons.”
    Zeno smiled without a trace of arrogance or sadism. “Consequences – that’s right. We all like to believe that we are enlightened beings. That we’ve emerged from the jungle wise enough to govern ourselves according to ‘the right thing.’ But you know that if left to our own unchecked urges, we would be right back in the jungle.” Zeno held the gun in the light before Rhoth. “The only safeguard against chaos is power. And the sad truth is that power always has and always will spring from the sword.” 
     Rhoth’s head sagged. He wished that he had the power to make himself pass out.
     Zeno returned the pistol and syringes to his pockets. “It’s ironic,” he opined, “how the one species in the world capable of introspection is the one species capable of deluding itself – and so quick to do so.”

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


       Rhoth was fixated on the tiny cooling streams running down his dry bloodied chin.
        “Listen to me,” Zeno commanded.
        Rhoth immediately complied.
       “You have a deal of talent. You stay on-point. You’re concise but quick to employ pertinent details. And you know how to prey on people’s fears and galvanize them to action. I’d like you to be a speechwriter for me. Well, not for me personally – I write my own speeches. I would have you write speeches, when necessary, for members of the Assembly.”
         Rhoth’s eyes betrayed his shock.
     Zeno spoke more, “The Assembly does whatever I tell it to, obviously. But the optics of our current arrangement would benefit from an intelligently and passionately argued counterpoint. That’s where you would come in.”
     Rhoth felt his stomach churn. The discomfort grew into the daggers he stared at Zeno.
        “Speak freely,” Zeno commanded, “but try to mind your tone.”
        Rhoth started, “I never would have guessed you were crazy.”
        “You could do a lot of good for Araddor, Mr. Rhoth.”
        “Your definition of ‘good’ is different from mine.”
      “I think that if you looked at things from my perspective you would see our disagreements result from a mere misunderstanding.”
    Rhoth steadied himself. “I think,” he said with a fearful affectation, “that your perspective is colored by your addiction to power.”
        Calmly Zeno asked, “What makes you consider it an addiction?”
      “Your insuperable need to consolidate all power into your hands.”
      “My every edict has been enacted into law with the full consent of the Assembly of States.”
    “Your father purged the last of your dynasty’s enemies and replaced them with lapdogs. The Assembly doesn’t speak on the people’s behalf.”
        “Has it ever?”
        “That’s not the point.”
     “Of course it is. Araddor’s governmental apparatus has always reflected the needs of its citizens. The people need their collective voice to be heard. The Assembly is their instrument, hence its continued existence through every permutation of government.”
     “But the people want their voice to have weight. They want to affect change on their own.”
      “Do they? Then why has a republican system failed to take root after nearly two thousand years of civilization?”
     “Because individuals who thirst for power keep corrupting and subverting the system.”
        “And what does that tell you?”
     “That there’ll always be individuals looking to prey on their fellow man.”
     “But if said system is inherently good, then why is it such easy prey?”
       Rhoth hesitated, realizing that he had never asked himself the question. He boldly ventured, “People get scared.” Rhoth had intended it as a jab at Zeno and his ilk.
       Instead, the Sovereign smiled and said, “And you would place the health and security of an entire planet into the hands of craven toads?”
        “So anyone who experiences fear is a craven toad?”
    “Only those willing to sell out their empire for their own immediate benefit.”
      Again, Rhoth noted that Zeno had succeeded in surprising him. He had not expected the tyrant to utter an altruistically patriotic sentiment. He responded without thinking. “As if you give two shits about ‘the empire.’”
       Zeno said “Impugn my sincerity again and I’ll order you to bite off your tongue and watch you bleed to death.”
       Rhoth watched the color in Zeno’s face dissipate. He was staring at a curse given human form. Minutes earlier he had thrashed about an invisible conflagration. Now he was petrified by the gelid menace of his Sovereign’s hawkish stare.
      Zeno slowly approached Rhoth. “You’re not the only student of history. The Assembly – ergo, the people – could have taken it upon themselves to fight the barbarians. They certainly held the authority to levy the nobles for money, supplies, and soldiers. Instead they turned to them and said, ‘Save us!’ The nobles obliged and turned into the Oligarchs. Centuries later, when the Oligarchs lost sight of their duty, when they came to believe that all of Araddor was a full teat for them to suckle at, the Assembly – the people – could have made a pact with the priests. They could have been a part of Araddor’s salvation. But they fell to their knees and cried out, ‘Save us!’ Look at what happened. My venerable ancestor hated the Theocrats as much as anyone did. He would have been happy, honored even, to serve the people, to aid their path out of a culture of injustice and bigotry. But the people didn’t want help. They wanted deliverance. They wanted someone to win their freedom for them.”
     Rhoth grew angrier with Zeno’s every utterance. He knew his history, Rhoth was forced to acknowledge. “What’s your point?” he asked through clenched jaws.
       “Don’t feign stupidity.” Zeno stood inches from Rhoth’s face. “You know exactly what my point is. Power imposes near-unbearable responsibility on whoever wields it. You know as well as I do that the average person would buckle under such an oppressive yoke. And the average person knows it. He doesn’t want that responsibility. So he allows himself to be ruled by those with your ‘addiction to power.’ ”
        “My audience would disagree with you.”
         Zeno’s eyebrows arched. “Really? Then why do they need you?”
      Rhoth hung his head. He couldn’t bear to look at the tyrant a moment longer.
       “It’s all about power, Mr. Rhoth – how badly does one want it and how does one use it.”
        Rhoth kept his eyes lowered to the bloodstained floor. He hated every word Zeno spewed forth. Each sound stung with the prickling self-assurance of armed authority. Rhoth wanted to attack him with every self-evident truism he could muster. He wanted to bring down his heel onto Zeno’s face, to tamp down his throat each inalienable liberty so obvious that Aruluea’s schoolchildren held them as given. But Rhoth’s voice was as paralyzed as his body. No salient argument or stirring rhetoric crossed his tongue.
      Zeno bent his knees and looked into Rhoth’s broken bloodied eyes. “I’ll leave you to dwell on that,” he said.
         Zeno and his guards turned and left Rhoth alone in his cell.