Novel Excerpt

Ore : 8:34 AM

[Note: This excerpt has been taken from the second draft; the third draft is just about ready for readers. Changes trivial and substantive may already have been made to this passage.]

There are the usual petty palace intrigues: that sordid but necessary matrix of murder and rape, espionage and carefully calculated candor, ascension and debasement whence empire occurs here, “sobre las nubes.” Then there are the grape crops, upon which so many millions depend to keep themselves sane in the face of quotidian misery; they are suffering the third lightest yield on record. And once again -- for the fifth time in a century -- a majority of the Rikstag, from half a globe away, has passed a resolution calling for her ouster. One would be remiss to forget also the ubiquitous cancerous children to be photographed with, the thousands of damned ribbons to cut.

But none of these cares seem to touch her. The Empress Pilar del Río de Piedra V bears few fine lines on her statuesque, morena face, and no gray in her wavy, shoulder-length black hair. Her brown eyes sparkle with wit and confidence; they are flecked with hints of gold. When she smiles, it is, though naturally turned down at the corners of the mouth, with genuine mirth. She looks as regal, as imperial, as a founder and CEO who continues to enjoy her work long after the elation of the smashing initial public offering has given way to the nail-biting anxieties bred by the daily ups and downs of the fickle market.

A decent simile: one cannot disregard the sheer power she radiates, so much greater than that of any private sector executive on my world. It renders her incandescent.

The business suit she is wearing as she glides down from the dais to relieve us our obeisance is something my mother would wear. My mother may very well own the same suit, in the same color. In any case, the resemblance is undeniable. She could be a younger, harder version of Katherine. She looks to be no older than 38.

Her appearance, like so much about her, is a lie. It is an open secret throughout the human-occupied galaxy that she is closer to 160.

The original Pilar was born when my great-grandparents, first-generation Illyrians, huddled under pressure domes, not long after the last of the comet-fall, but before construction had begun on the great canals that criss-cross Capay City. It was a time of great unrest on Arboleda Azul, and Pilar was on the vanguard of transforming that unrest into upheaval.

For a time she was the beautiful yet humble Guerrera, one foundation stone among many of the shaky new social democracy built from the timbers of the obliterated rightist corporate state that had settled Arboleda Azúl. She was supposed to sink back into the hard-bitten masses, to find a sun-browned, handsome and wiry husband, and one day regale her fat little grandchildren with tales of how she had nutted and gutted some hapless mercenary with her buck knife, which would hang in the firelight on the soot-blackened wall. And then she would die, her body given to the reclamation plants so that she might sustain her fellow Arboledeños. But how can a girl expect to secure a place in history if she behaves?

Through a rarely seen combination of ruthlessness, charm, and ingenuity, Pilar replaced the already self-destructing new republic with a granite throne. The new world required large, regular infusions of capital and processed materials that the pride and disapproval of other corporate entities, having seen the shameful toppling of one of their own by popular movement, would not allow to be delivered; their indignation was mollified by the installation of a strongwoman; they approved of her and her methods. Besides, the people feared; like some terrifying goddess she offered them shelter and succor in exchange for their undying devotion and worship. This is not to say she did not love them in return; she loved them almost as much as she loved power. She proved to be a fine administrator, a stern but fair steward to the masses. She cared deeply for her people, as though they were, collectively, wet, bloody and newly born from her womb. Her actual womb, on the other hand...

The problem with such a wise and intelligent woman loving her people so much is her foresight, born of an unavoidable sense of history: she was well aware of how unreliable heirs could be. Could a scion, who after a certain point becomes a distinct person, with foibles and flaws and needs and whims of his or her own, truly be trusted to care and love as much as she? She decided to avoid needing an answer: there is no better way to insure against a tyranny's most fatal flaw, namely, the mortality of its tyrant, than to obviate mortality itself.

Cloning is easy. Insert genetic material into hollowed out egg, fertilize in vitro one of your healthier worshippers, allow the being to mature for 16 or so years (keeping it under lock and key and heavy sedation as much as possible), and voila: a beautiful, brand new you.

The two-step neural transference is a darker matter. The process of quantum mapping the actual echo of the mind -- a process known elsewhere only theoretically, it is hoped -- of course destroys the original. And the recasting of a neural network as vast as that of a human being's -- superimposing it, moreover, on an already formed brain -- is at best an exceedingly tricky proposition.

But for almost two centuries she has continued to pull it off. If there is any degradation from the original, she doesn't show it. No words of cloned children whose rightful lives were denied them spring forced from her somewhat thin lips. She displays no palsy; her very presence is firm and assured.

No doubt spies and scientists all over the known universe are desperate to find out just how her team rolls. But they are quiet in their desperation. Never mind the problems of vast computing power such a project would entail -- the ethical concerns alone are myriad. I think I am not wrong in supposing that virtually every modern neurophysicist finds the mere concept of such a technology and all its ramifications nauseating in the extreme.

We stand, four pawns facing a queen, arrayed on the glossy beige marble. She affixes me almost playfully. "I see women on your world are not familiar with the -- how do you say? -- curtsy. They bow the way you do, as a man should."

I am struck dumb. It is true. I am flanked by Sophia and Nene to my left, and Olivia to my right. While Olivia had managed a decent, generic sort of flourishing bow that must pass for something in Viola, Nene and I, as we had been trained from toddlerhood onward, had held our ojigiri deeply and a for a duration (it was all I could do to keep from addressing la Emperatriz in my most teinei-na kokugo, which she certainly would not have understood.) In fact, at this moment, I feel I could kow-tow were I able. Alas, I had no idea such a gesture even existed until I was in my teens, when I read a very old Kang Be story that illustrated it. Alone among us, Sophia has remained still.

An ice-cold oubliette echoes in my stomach as I watch Sophia step forward, frank as artificial sunlight (her honeyed curls bouncing all the way), and raise her skirt and dip and bow in the most curious fashion.

Pilar throws her head back and emits two loud laughs, sharp yet soft, like quick bleats from a French horn. "Precious. Absolutely adorable." Still smiling, she closes on Sophia. "And what is your name, girl?"

"Sophia, your majesty."

"No apellido -- no family name?"

For my assistant, a lie takes no time. "I was an orphan, your highness."

"Hm." Pilar returns to me.

I can sense Olivia's and Nene's shock. Nene especially. She wants desperately to ask me what a curtsy is. Does the word share a common ancestor with "courtesy"? Is she expected to do the same from now on? How the hell should I know? But Nene is a professional above all. She keeps quiet, just as I had asked her to. We don't even use among us our maxillary mics, as Olivia had assured me when we were in orbit that this very room is riddled with snoops.

I am desperate for this ritual to be done with, for us to be dismissed from the audience hall. The sooner it is over, the less likely it is her majesty will have us beheaded for displeasing her. And don't think she can't. I recall one of many tales of her depravity: on an antelope hunt, she had accidentally shot and killed a courtier. Some of the wealthier families were outraged, but she had somehow finagled the courtier's family into apologizing for their son's death having caused her such grief and pain, and for having given ammunition, so to speak, to her legion yet anonymous political enemies. It would be a diplomatic nightmare, to be sure, but no one is going to cross 82 light-years to avenge the deaths of four privateers who should have known better than to accept such an assignment in the first place. She'd have a moderately difficult time explaining the empty Illyrian vessel docked in Arboleda Azul's Clarke ring, but interstellar war is just so pointless.

With the authority she commands, she could easily have the entire Illyrian consulate massaging her feet even as her attendants wash our blood from the floor mere meters away.

"Captain Edgley," she turns to me, brightly and fascinated, "won't you and your crew join me for dinner tonight? We have a wonderful show in store. A face-changer from Tien Fa. I understand she has been entertaining some of our wealthier families; she has been making the rounds for some months now, proving herself, and comes to us highly recommended."

"We would be honored, your majesty." Once again, I offer her my deepest ojigiri.

Her voice is sharp and peremptory. "Pioquinto," she says, and, as the soul of hospitality, in English, "please show our guests to their chambers."

There is a tall, goateed man, dressed in a black flightsuit and armed with a ceremonial halberd, to the right of her throne. He bows once, and in a croupy voice assents. "Si, Doña Emperatriz.

"Come with me, please."

We file out of the hall behind Señor Pioquinto Santaolalla, our fates deferred for now.

posted by teh l4m3 at 8:34 AM | Permalink |

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Comments for Novel Excerpt
Can't do it.

that gave me a headache.

I kinda like it. The language level is up there, and as Toni Morrison once said, "That's why they call it reading..." If I may offer one observation, though, it seems like a perfectly good scene gets heavily mom-armed by a lot of exposition. Maybe it will make more sense in the larger context, but I'd love to know more about the physical setting of the scene that the political: what are the decor and lighting like in the room? How many other people are there, and who are they? How big is the room? What are the four pawns wearing? What color is the queen's suit? Does she have a huge rack? Okay, never mind that last question. All that aside, I'd love to read more. Keep it goin', teh.

i dont know about the spanish names, but other than that it's a great teaser.

Manuel the gardener...slipped his mutated membrane..into her quivering quim....

CS: Yes, I didn't give enough of the beginning of the scene there. I got too paranoid, thinking it was too long as is. Probably not the best few paragraphs, but I kinda grabbed it at random. Sorry about that. Will post a better, more self-contained excerpt later.

And near as I can tell, she's not quite a C-cup (kinda slim).

AIF: Actually, there's a mild twist, revealed at the end of the chapter, involving the Empress's name.

Butchie: ha ha. Actually, there's a pretty naughty scene in this chapter. Only the aftermath is sorta creepy... Right up your "alley," I think.

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