by Gary Inbinder
Table of Contents|
Chapter 20, part 4
Chapter 21, part 2
appear in this issue.
part 1 of 4
On a Friday evening two weeks after the games, Ludwig and Cato sat in the Capitol Hill penthouse garden that formerly belonged to Consul Finn. Several days earlier, the Senate, by acclamation, confiscated all of Finn’s property, granting it to Ludwig and Aurelia jointly.
“It’s a lovely place, my lord,” Cato observed. “I remember attending parties here years ago.”
Ludwig smiled and offered, “Have some more wine, Pontifex, the Finn cellars are excellent.” Ludwig refilled the newly appointed Pontifex Maximus’s carved dark blue and green glass goblet with claret poured from a golden chased ewer.
After sniffing the strong fruit and nut odor, the Pontifex took a sip on palate and tongue, swallowed, and proclaimed, “An excellent vintage from your estates, my lord. The small open fermenters coupled with oak barrel aging give it a delightful finish.”
“You must take a tour of our vineyards and winery some time,” Ludwig replied, “so that we may compare methods.”
Smiling, Cato agreed, “Certainly, my lord.” The Pontifex Maximus relaxed to the sounds of trickling water, bird song, and Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze” on the sound system. After a moment of silent enjoyment, Cato looked up at a fiery vermillion artificial sky and observed, “An Algolian sunset isn’t it?”
Ludwig gazed at the ceiling and replied, “Yes, like the heavens raining fire at the end of time.”
Nodding in agreement, the Pontifex got down to business. “The purification and consecration of the former Temple of Jupiter Capitoline is almost completed, my lord. We’ll be ready for your wedding and coronation next month.”
“I’m glad to hear that, Pontifex. I’m also pleased that we were able to preserve most of the neo-pagan statues and other art objects in our private collection. I intend to donate some of them, over time, to a new Imperial Wing of the Capitol Hill Museum.”
“The Senate and people will be grateful for such a magnanimous gesture, my lord.” The new Pontifex was clearly more the Epicurean than the zealot or iconoclast.
“I’m sure they will be.” Ludwig finished his wine and snapped his fingers. A female android appeared at once, refilling the empty ewer from an earthenware jug. Watching her as she left the peristyle, Ludwig remarked, “The former pseudo-Aurelia, what do you think?”
“Quite remarkable, my lord, I wouldn’t have recognized her.”
“Plotinus did a good job re-programming and facially reconstructing the pseudo-Aurelia and Ludwig. The technicians downgraded them to very amenable ‘C’ models named Cletus and Cassandra.” Ludwig stopped a moment, fixed Cato’s eyes with a cool stare and continued, “This brings me to the subject of android rights. If the Senate passes a bill granting full civil rights to ‘B’ models and limited rights to the ‘C’ and ‘D’ class, I’ll consider signing it. Of course, this applies to those androids whose programming requires that they pledge their loyalty to me.”
“Yes, of course, but you’ll also require membership in our Church, my lord?”
“Not necessarily, Pontifex; I don’t want to condition civil rights on Church affiliation.”
Cato frownedand scratched his balding head. Taking a sip of wine, he considered Ludwig’s statement for a minute and then replied, “Perhaps we could compromise, my lord? Human citizens can retain their rights without belonging to our Church; however I wouldn’t extend this option to androids, Algolians and other outsiders.”
“We’ll discuss this another time, Pontifex. I plan to meet with a Senate sub-committee on this matter as well as the issue of lifting certain class restrictions. You’re invited to attend as Church representative.”
Cato nodded in agreementand took another drink of his wine.
Changing the subject, Ludwig said, “As you know, I have an important project in the works: the building of a great triumphal arch celebrating the Algolian peace treaty and my New Imperium. I’m chairing a committee reviewing designs and construction bids, and I’d like you to serve on the board.”
“I’d be honored,” Cato replied. “Also, let me congratulate you on the Senate’s approval of a bill changing the name of Republic Boulevard to Imperial Way; I understand your arch will be built in the new Ludovicus circle at the boulevard’s terminus.”
Slapping his forehead, Ludwig exclaimed, “I almost forgot. Aurelia and Artemisia have been out on a Republic Boulevard shopping spree; they’ll be home soon, and you’re invited to join us for dinner.”
“I’m sorry, my lord, I’m dining with my knights — or I should say, my Pontifical College — this evening. Please extend my apologies to Lady Aurelia and Queen Artemisia.”
“Of course, Pontifex, you’re always welcome in this house.”
“Thank you for your hospitality, my lord. If you’ll excuse me now, I must leave.” Cato got up and bowed respectfully.
Remaining seated, Ludwig smiled and nodded in reply. After Cato left the garden, Ludwig pushed a button on a table near his couch, summoning Macro. Ludwig pardoned Macro and Sejanus, retaining them as household guards after they surrendered and swore a loyalty oath.
Wearing a new Praetorian Guard uniform copied from the old earth Roman style but with new earth, hi-tech upgrades, Macro marched from his station near the penthouse entrance to the peristyle. Coming to attention and saluting Ludwig, he asked, “Your orders, my lord?”
“You may bring Finn to me now, Macro.”
Macro went to a basement cell to fetch the former Consul, whom Ludwig and Cato imprisoned in the Capitol Hill fortress following the games. Already punished with confinement and confiscation of property, Finn awaited his final disposition.
Macro returned with his prisoner, who was manacled and clad in a clean but plain, coarse prison robe. Halting twenty paces from Ludwig, Macro turned to Finn and ordered, “Bow to our lord and master.”
Finn remained erect and stubbornly silent, scowling at Ludwig.
“Shall I make him bow, my lord?”
“No, Macro,” Ludwig replied. “Undo his manacles and leave us.”
Macro unlocked and removed Finn’s handcuffs and ankle-chains, saluted Ludwig, and left the peristyle.
Standing to greet his guest, Ludwig inquired, “Are they treating you well, Excellency?”
Laughing, Finn replied, “Is that an example of plebian humor?”
With a wry smile Ludwig quipped, “No, Excellency, that would be patrician half-caste bastard humor.” Pointing to the couch across from his, Ludwig added, “Please, join me; this vintage, as you know, is quite special.”
Finn walked to the couch and sat while Ludwig poured him a glass. Taking the proffered drink from Ludwig’s extended hand, Finn commented, “Under the circumstances, one might take your magnanimity as an insult.”
“Take it in the spirit in which it’s offered, Excellency, as a gesture of reconciliation.”
Between sips of wine, Finn commented, “Oh, that’s good,” without explaining whether he was referring to the drink, Ludwig’s remark, or both. Listening to the piped-in music and observing the Algolian sky, Finn declared, “Lovely music and a lurid sunset; I like the juxtaposition.” After tasting more of the wine, he continued, “Are you going to be a good shepherd, Luddy? There are lots of hungry sheep in the galaxy.”
“If you’re talking about spiritual hunger, that’s Cato’s department. As for bread and circuses, I think we’ll manage.”
Contemplating all he had lost, Finn sighed, “This is most pleasant, however I’m sure you brought me here for a purpose. Shall we come to the point?”
Enjoying his position of power in relation to the ex-Consul, Ludwig replied, “The Senate has left me to deal with you as I see fit. Your death is an option; imprisonment for life in unpleasant surroundings is another. On the other hand, a very attractive exile is also a possibility. For example, there is a lovely mountain villa with fine vineyards near the sea, on Algol 2. It’s the perfect place for a platinum retirement, especially when shared with amusing companions, not to mention beautiful pleasure androids.”
Finn scratched his shaved head, took a sip of wine and then asked, “What would you want in exchange for that most agreeable alternative?”
Staring at the Consul with steely blue eyes, Ludwig replied, “Information. If you help me rule, I’ll take good care of you. In future, you’ll entertain me as a special guest in that villa of yours from time to time.”
“Alright, Luddy, I’ll start with a bit of advice. Watch out for Cato; he’s a sharp one.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“You’re accepting the crown from his hand. He’ll anoint and absolve you and Aurelia, but he’ll keep you under his thumb. If you’d followed me, I would have handed you both the Imperial crown and the Ecclesiastical tiara as my heir and successor.”
Pouring more wine for Finn and himself, Ludwig asked, “What about your duel with Cato and the wound?”
“Not much to tell, Luddy. We were both young and eager to rule. The Spear of Fate, which is now in your possession, is an ancient, old earth relic. The Vestals guarded the treasure hidden in a secret vault in the shrine of Vesta. I bribed the head virgin, a Dax by the way, to gain admission to the vault.
“According to legend, the person who controls the Spear will rule the world; or, in our case, all the worlds. The evening I went to the shrine for my prize, Cato followed me and we fought within the sacred precincts. The whole affair was a sacrilege punishable by flogging or death, which is why Cato, the head Vestal Virgin and I kept our mouths shut.
“Over the years I prospered; Cato remained my rival, but his wound slowly grew worse until you saved him with the Aureus. I believe you know the rest of the Ludovicus legend.”
“That’s an interesting story, but I don’t believe I have the true Spear.”
Finn paused a moment, looking at Ludwig, his lips twitched into a bewildered smile. “I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage, Luddy.”
“Don’t play games with me Finn. I believe the spear you threw at me in the Coliseum is an excellent, modern hi-tech copy. Either you had the real spear and chose not to use it or you know where it is. Tell me the truth and you can begin a long and happy retirement on Algol 2. Otherwise you have an appointment for later this evening with Macro and the garrote.”
Laughing bitterly, Finn sipped some wine and then said, “Come right to the point, don’t you? What makes you think there are two spears?”
“The device on the Aureus, Excellency: there are two crossed spears. I think the original represents faith; the other, science. I need both to rule.”
Shaking his head, Finn muttered, “I think I liked you better when you were a simple guardsman.” Pausing a moment to study the carving on his glass, he added, “You’re right, there are two spears, as you say. You have a copy made by my friends at Plotinus; Cato has the original. The Aureus draws upon the true Spear for its power, which I assume is why you were able to defeat me.”
“How did Cato get the true spear away from you?”
“The same way I got it: through duplicity.”
“Where does Cato keep the original spear?”
“It was in his castle in the alternate world, but I’d wager he’s keeping it hidden in the Temple of Vesta before moving it to his new Church on Capitol Hill.”
“Do you have any idea how to get it?”
Smiling, Finn replied, “I suppose you could ask Cato to give it to you. Otherwise you could try bribery or theft.”
“I hope you’re being straight with me, Finn.”
Finn laughed bitterly. “Frankly, Luddy, I prefer your offer of a retirement villa to strangulation in my nasty little cell. I’m telling you what I know.”
Ludwig rang for Macro. Smiling at Finn, he said, “Have a nice trip to Algol 2. I’ll visit soon, to see how you’re doing.”
Getting up from his couch, Finn replied, “Thank you, I’ll look forward to it.”
When Macro arrived, Ludwig ordered, “No need for the manacles. Take Mr. Finn to the fleet cruiser and accompany him to Algol 2. Before boarding, get him some patrician clothes and see to it that everyone on the ship treats him with respect. He’s to have everything he needs for a safe and comfortable journey to his new home.”
Saluting, Macro answered, “Yes, my lord.”
Finn bowed to Ludwig and said, “Thank you, my lord. I congratulate you on your victory and wish you a long and prosperous reign.”
Ludwig responded with a courteous nod. After Finn and Macro left, Ludwig summoned his servant, Cassandra. When she arrived, Ludwig ordered, “Lady Aurelia and Queen Artemisia should be returning soon. I believe Generals Dax and Valerian and Major Dax will be joining us, and I’d like our dinner served here in the garden.”
“Very well, my lord, I’ll take care of all the arrangements.”
After Cassandra left the peristyle, Ludwig stared at the artificial Algolian sky, trying to determine whether it appeared lurid or apocalyptic. Unable to decide, he went to his room to change for dinner.
Later that evening, on a cruiser bound for Algol 2, Finn relaxed on a reclining chair in a luxurious private cabin. He enjoyed Chateau Deneb champagne with a pair of female pleasure androids. Peering out the cabin window, Finn watched as the shimmering blue-green and white New Earth receded into the black void of space.
Turning to one of his beautiful companions, Finn gazed into her dark green eyes and thought, I’ll help Ludwig, because I want to live to see what happens when his first-born son awakens Berenice and falls in love with her. How will Emperor Luddy and his emerald-eyed bitch cope with that little problem? Smiling broadly, he poured some champagne into the android’s greedily opened mouth, licking the dribbled remnant from her warm, red lips.
Ludwig and Aurelia had a pleasant dinner party in the peristyle with Artemisia, the two Generals and Dax. Shortly after the meal, Ludwig said, “If you’ll excuse us for a moment, I have a little business to discuss with Dax. In the meantime, I’m sure Aurelia will keep you amused.” Turning to Aurelia, who sat beside him, Ludwig added, “I might suggest taking our guests on a tour of the penthouse.”
Aurelia responded with a smile and a surreptitious under-the-table kick in the shin.
Ludwig winced. Taking Aurelia by the arm, he got up from the table, telling his guests, “Excuse us, please,” and then walked her to a quiet alcove.
Aurelia spoke first. “I think it’s rude of you, Luddy, to go off on your own with Dax when we’re entertaining such important guests.”
“Listen, Aurelia, it won’t be for long, we’ll catch up with you later. Besides, you and Artemisia had the whole day to yourselves while I stayed here taking care of business.”
Pouting, Aurelia replied, “You’ll do as you please.”
Ludwig kissed Aurelia’s forehead and whispered, “I’m sorry, love, I wouldn’t have this little meeting with Dax unless it was important.”
Changing her tone, she smiled and answered, “Alright, Luddy, but please don’t abandon me. Artemisia and Dax are fun, but the two generals are boring beyond belief.”
“I promise you’ll hardly know we were gone.”
Aurelia took Ludwig’s hand; they returned to their guests. Upon seeing Ludwig nod in his direction, Dax excused himself, got up from the table and accompanied his host while the remainder of the party followed Aurelia as she led them on a grand tour of the penthouse.
Seated behind his desk in the study, Ludwig offered Dax a glass of brandy and a cigar, which the newly promoted Major gratefully accepted.
Relaxing in a comfortable leather armchair, Dax looked around the room and remarked, “This is quite a place, Luddy. Finn certainly went for the grand old earth imperial style.”
Glancing across the room at the statues of Alexander, the Caesars and Napoleon I, Ludwig answered, “He certainly did, and in a very big way, but he disregarded a famous old earth saying about power corrupting. I won’t make that mistake.” Ludwig lit his Churchill cigar, blew a couple of smoke rings, reclined in his chair and continued, “Things started out rocky between us, Dax, but I now think of you as one of a band of brothers, you, me and old Slim.”
Dax savored some brandy and replied, “‘Band of brothers’; that has a nice, familiar old earth ring to it.”
“Yes, it does, Dax. By the way, how is old Slim doing these days?”
“Just fine, Luddy. He’s up in the mountains at his lodge, enjoying fishing, hunting and the clean air. What’s more, he has a companion. Claudia moved in with him.”
“I’m glad to hear that. A woman’s just what that old rust bucket needs to keep him well-oiled and squared away.”
Laughing, Dax commented, “That’s just what I told him, sport. I’ll bet it’s the first time in years that half-robot’s had clean underwear and socks sans holes.”
“No doubt; there’s nothing like the feminine touch to keep an old bachelor from going to seed. By the way, I’ve got another cyborg pal from the company, Bec Rogers. I’m going to ask Slim to invite Becky up to the lodge for a weekend.” After pausing to take a sip of his brandy, Ludwig continued, “I recall you expressing an interest in having a lodge like Slim’s.”
Copyright © 2007 by Gary Inbinder