Welcome back to my series covering the stories in the original OMP anthology. Today takes a look at the 7th and 8th stories.
One of the aims of the collection was to present ‘something for everyone,’ and so our 24 stories range from different genres to different types, including scripts and non fiction.
Chris Neal’s ‘The Unassuming Coronet of Wonder,’ certainly comes under the description of ‘different,’ – it could be described as a story song set to music, a poetic story or an allegorical tale. In fact its all three and certainly one of the most experimental entries to the collection.
In his introduction, Chris advises listening to ‘When the Fool became a King,’ by the Polyphonic Spree (of which he was a member) while reading this. He was certainly listening and inspired by that song while he was writing.
Here is Scene One of THE UNASSUMING CORONET OF WONDER.
Scene 1: A Sunrise On Every Horizon (…everybody feels alright…good times…)
Before the day began there was a hum. This hum began to flow across the universe.
This flow created a dream in the young boy’s mind before he awoke. This dream was one filled with awareness, tragedy, and finally triumph.
He saw his life as one day that lasted until the end of time. He knew that before the sun could make its way to its rightful place he had to come to an agreement with chance. This agreement was one of awareness that his life was meant for something spectacular. He was chosen to dance in the flow of life. Everything was interconnected and the sun was woven to his spirit and his spirit was woven to every other spirit in existence.
This created a blanket that allowed him to dive without fear into the unknown and conquer the challenges that lay before him. He dreamed of broken stars and diamonds and what he saw filled his stomach with a cool brisk wind.
It was as if wonder had been placed in his mind for the first time. His chest filled with air, up and down, as the night air blew through his blond hair. He held a lasting thought of self-worth and this thought brought destiny to his waking eyes. The night was over.
The sky has no beginning and no end. The horizon began as a deep, midnight blue but burned quickly into brilliant pinks and oranges. Clouds swirled and looped magically in all directions blown by tattered giants standing on stilts carved out of giant redwoods.
Suddenly two hands appeared from beyond the sky and reached out toward the Earth with long flowing white sleeves rustling in the wind at the wrists. These hands gathered the giants together in a huddle and gently tied a ribbon around them. Then the hands lifted them away and placed them a thousand miles from there across from a wonderful gray snow-capped mountain range.
The hands stretched back towards a young boy that lay sleeping between a wet forest and a crystal lake. They brushed the tiny boy’s hair from his eyes as he stirred but did not wake. Then in a move filled with power the two hands pointed to the East and West horizon and then to the North and South. They trembled with energy and began to shake and creatures ran from the forest.
At this moment a string attached to the hands began to whip in the wind as four suns appeared from every horizon. The hands guided these suns toward the middle of the sky as they circled about like motorized kites. Only these mighty hands could control one sun much less these four solar minnows. Deer, elephants, zebras, and butterflies scurried around the boy as he finally opened his eyes and jumped to his feet. The boy wore a long robe cinched with a brown leather belt and sandals. He appeared to be around ten years old with fair skin and rosy cheeks.
The boy thought for a second about the dream that he had just had. He shuttered at the sight of the suns being corralled by what he immediately recognized as the powerful hands of destiny. He shook his head and smiled and held his hand to his ear. He heard the hum of life; he felt the flow of his own spirit. He petted the animals and jumped in the air.
At this moment the four suns flown by destiny inched closer to one another at the top of the sky. They rotated around one another and began to bounce around like gigantic protons and neutrons. Then the hands of destiny released the strings controlling the four suns and they immediately became one huge burning star in the most soft, brilliant blue sky. The clouds relaxed and the giant hands disappeared into the star. The boy laughed and sat down on a rock beside the lake as flowers bloomed beside him.
Story 8 is entitled THOSE WHO WOULD RESIST MY RULE.
As I summed it up quite succinctly in my original introduction, I’ll just copy that here again. It also has some fantastic art by Tom Cardin accompanying the story – if you haven’t already, go get a downloaded copy of the OMP and see for yourself.
Editor’s Introduction – This story qualifies as ‘Space Opera.’ I wanted to take a very obvious trope (the space tyrant) and look deeper into the motivations of what is often presented as a very shallow character type. Part Darth Vader, part Ming the Merciless … like these and other ‘supreme rulers,’ Darkikonn appears to be a simplistic ranting megalomaniac … but he is actually so much more.
The first three (short chapters) give you a good overview of where the story is going and its one I am particularly fond of because of it’s differing perspective, world building and the layers of hidden or not so hidden meaning I injected within the text.
Chapter One: Thoughts of a Tyrant as dictated to Central Comp.
I am Darkikonn, Lord of all Quarr and Liege Lord of the Seven Quadrants. My rule extends to the edge of known space and a trillion trillion trillion sentients quake under my booted heel. I am Darkikonn!
Is that a suitable opening I wonder? I find a melodramatic statement, firm and unyielding in its intent to be best. The usual form if you will, simplistic in its straightforward but bombastic language, accurate in content but perhaps somewhat … cliché?
I think so anyway but my thoughts remain my own and of course nobody would dare to unintentionally agree with those thoughts unprompted ~ Computer records a heavy sigh ~ it would mean their life of course and one must preserve form. I am as much a slave to form and function as all others are slaves to my despotic whim. If I DIDN’T order the occasional random execution among my lackeys on a flimsy pretext or even none at all, everyone would be so disappointed.
I may be merciful of course but even then I must do it in a studied, coolly calculated manner and if my rare displays of mercy were even more chilling than one of my equally unpredictable rants or random punishments, then so much the better.
I may act unconventionally but within the expected parameters and if I did not … well where would it all end? The decay of Society I suppose. My Society!
… Hmmm, a notion worth exploring.
There are those who resist of course. There always are … Rebels … how I envy them their bloody minded single headedness – the blacks and whites through which they view the universe. I am evil; therefore I must be removed so that good can prevail. ~Computer records a hollow laugh~
Children. Children who cannot conceive that there are consequences bound in consequence and every action has an equal and mostly negative reaction. Yes, they are simplistic fools who live in today with little regard to yesterday or tomorrow except how the latter pertains to their own limited world view. How I envy them.
This current group of rebels are not the first nor sadly shall they be the last. In X years of rule almost a dozen rebellions have sparked, flared and been extinguished. I know how they think you see, because once … once I was one of them!
Oh yes, it’s true. Darkikonn is my chosen name of course (Did you really think my birth mother would saddle an innocent babe with such an appellation?) and chosen carefully at that. Somewhat hokey and melodramatic, it nonetheless inspires a certain symbolic grandeur.
Dark Icon … Well, I thought it was clever anyway. End recording.
Chapter Two: The First Prince.
Let me tell you a tale … a tale of a Prince of the Outworlds. His name need not concern you. Indeed it is lost to history, permanently expunged from the records. What you need to know is that the Prince was young (barely even a hundred years old at the time), noble and strong willed.
He would, when bored of following fashion, attach himself to one cause or another and he believed, despite his life of privilege that all men were equal and all deserved to climb as far or fall as far as his or her life choices took that individual. He saw no distinction between race, colour, humanoid species or levels of intelligence. In short, he was a deluded fool.
In the days of the old Emperor, responsibility for the Core and Fringe worlds fell to strictly regimented imperial governors. In the Outworlds however, local governments, warlords or as was often the case, monarchs, would be allowed limited autonomy to rule their lands or world in the name of the Emperor and abide by the tenets of his central laws.
A result of this rule by proxy … a rule known to history as the loose grip of the velvet glove, rather than the firm unrelenting grip of the iron fist that ruled elsewhere … was that mild dissent ensued. Feeling themselves first to be subjects of their kingdoms and secondly citizens of the Empire, the Outworld peoples felt at liberty to complain and complain they did … of taxes, conscription, the laughably limited application of identity tracking and security surveillance and much more besides.
Allowed such liberties by their weak milksop governments and jolly jovial monarchs with their ludicrous notions of personal popularity and governance by consent of the populace, the peoples AND nobility of these backwards realms spoke words aloud and printed opinions that elsewhere would surely have resulted in their immediate imprisonment and in some cases execution.
Even more absurd was the fact that when the Outworld Imperial representatives enacted even the watered down measures of censure for these crimes, the populace grumbled of ‘Draconian Measures’ and sang even louder about ‘Free Speech’ and ‘Civil Liberties.’
In the palace of the King of one such Outworld, as in the taverns and halls of the cities and towns, such ill considered dissent often reached fever pitch for days on end before inevitably dying down … but it was not always to be so.
‘This will not stand!’ Pallack had declared, throwing down the broadsheet with a resounding schlap on the marble floor.
Others in the palatial room added their voice to the growing tumult and the Lord Pallack Armajian continued ‘Many times before, the venerated Master Karzian has voiced the feelings of all in this room. Nay, this city! His addresses and articles have always been respectful, diplomatic and reasoned. For over 400 years Karzian has quietly and steadily been the voice of the common AND noble folk against the oppressive policies of the central tyranny. He has been an advocate of reasoned debate and sensible change within the system and for reform and fairness.’
Pallack paused. ‘For his perseverance and his respectful push for reforms and for voicing the views of the liberal reform for freedom movement, he has suffered censure, ridicule and threats … even imprisonment.’
Another pause. ‘ … and now … AND NOW,’ Pallock’s voice rose. ‘THIS ESTEEMED OLD FATHER, THIS MAN OF PEACE and campaigner for justice stands ACCUSED of rabble rousing, sedition and treason. The new Imperial Peacekeeper wants him dead for these ‘crimes’ What say you?’
The hall rose as a man and cried their anger at this heinous proposal and when all had settled back down, one of their number remained standing atop the dais.
Pallack held his hands out for hush. ‘My Lords, noble companions, friends, I yield the floor to his Highness. Silence for the Prince.’
Sky blue eyes scanned the room and then the Prince held up his arms, an action which caused the long blonde hair that framed his noble brow and handsome features, to swish slightly.
He stepped forward and all eyes locked upon his tall, bronzed and well muscled frame.
‘Pallack, our noble friend, speaks naught but truth. The Centre thinks to put us in our place … to make an example of Master Karzian and by extension the realm but I’ll be damned if I’ll let my old teacher die by their hands!’
‘What can we do o Prince?’ called one of the southern lords.
‘Secede,’ called another. His cry was taken up.
The Prince held up his arms again. ‘I have consulted with my father … he knows a time of crisis is upon us but dithers to hear the outcome of this assembly.’
‘And you my Lord Prince?’ asked Pallack. ‘What do you think?’
The Prince’s blue eyes blazed with fury. ‘Karzian shall live and we, the people shall live in the future by our own standards. We shall live as free men … but wait my lords, still your cries. Hold, those who agree, be silent those who fear the course we must take … know ye that my decree goes beyond mere impetuousness. Today in these halls are the princes and lords and ambassadors of 79 worlds, invited in secret to attend. We shall NOT rise alone and Gods willing over 600 unrepresented worlds shall join us!’
‘By the Gods they’d better,’ roared Pallack. ‘Or we shall be crushed within a six-month!’
The Prince grinned. ‘Then we die as free men … free men who have struck the putrid heart of Empire before we fell.’ To the throng ‘Sound the clarion. We march on the imperial garrison and to free Karzian!’
Seven years pass … the Outworlds are afire. As the Prince hoped, others joined them and by luck the overstuffed and unprepared bureaucracy of the Empire was slow to react and the first 80 worlds were free before the Core worlds reacted with extreme force … but by then an Armada had been fielded against the First Imperial Fleet and 600 remaining Outworlds were rising… fire and flame went the chant as imperial command building after imperial command building went up …
…. And then the wildfire of revolt spread to the Fringe worlds and while the Cores locked down, suddenly there were more rebel planets than loyalist. For thousands of years the Empire had remained bloated with complacency but by the ninth year of rebellion it was over.
The final sweep engulfed Throneworld and the Prince himself slew the Iron Emperor and was unanimously hailed hero and leader. His first act was to dissolve the Empire and declare all men free!
Chapter Three: The Greater Good.
Three months after the Conquest.
Weary lay the head that rested beneath the crown of Empire. A full 40% of all Imperial planets had declared their sovereignty as soon as the former Prince had freed them but the rest begged to remain within his sphere of protection.
The Great audience chamber of the Iron Emperor had been co-opted for the use of the Prince and his closest friends and advisors and it was on this day that the Provisional Government met with the representatives of all the planetary bodies that clung to the Centre with the ferocity of craven limpets.
On the Great Throne (softened by cushions and colourful drapes where only black and silver had been before), the Prince sat with one hand to his chin. He scanned the crowd but nobody made a move to speak or address him. All eyes were cast downwards.
At last he coughed. ‘My friends, please be at ease and speak your minds …’
Eyes were raised but still a nervous tension hung around the vast room.
‘Pallack, perhaps you would care to introduce delegates in order and we can proceed.’
The lord Pallack nodded. ‘Of course my prince. Somebody here should have the list and … ah Servor.’
A wizened figure dressed all in black robes inched its way forward; weaselish of face with a straight sharp nose and lank black hair falling across his pallid white high domed forehead, the man who stood before them was a minor functionary of the previous administrative core – too low down the totem pole to be imprisoned with the criminals who served the Iron Emperor – never-the-less the Prince thought he and all the others should have been removed.
But if we dismiss all of the low level functionaries and the middle management, we will be left without an administrative bureaucracy to keep up the day to day running of the Empire, he had been told.
The advice given had been simple in its clarity; rather than sweep away everything that was the old regime as he had impulsively wished for and leave nothing in its place, thus leading to chaos, better to preserve the infrastructure at a purely administrative level and gradually transition towards the new democratic system they had all envisaged.
So it was decided that because citizens could hardly refuse work allocation to the civic core of the old Empire – under threat of death on occasion – most workers could not be blamed for simply doing what they were doing and should in all fairness remain.
Of course the higher echelons and those accused and found guilty of crimes against their fellow citizenry would either join the Emperor in death, be imprisoned or in the case of those in power whose records were nominally clean, simply be removed from office and replaced.
It seemed eminently logical that there be promotion from below as well and this is what eventually propelled Servor from a middle ranking clerical management position to the position of senior advisor.
Although these facts grated on the Prince, he had to admit their logic and that Servor was remarkably adept at his function.
The first to petition the Prince was a planetary governor from Relsus 5.
Politely the Prince heard him out and then suggested that perhaps this was more a matter for the new permanent democratic government after elections had been scheduled.
‘But my lord!’ the planetary governor began impulsively …then he became silent as if fearing that the Prince would strike him down. Instead he was beckoned to continue and did so with growing confidence.
‘We cannot wait Sire. Already the Narvian province has declared independence and seeks to ethnically eradicate the Formign who live on their western borders and in the capital insurrection threatens. General Poilk has gone rogue, taking the Outer Legion with him and has declared himself a king. We need a swift decisive response oh Prince. The people need stability and want to remain part of the Empire …’
‘There is no Empire,’ the Prince interrupted.
Pallack demurred. ‘Not in the old sense my lord but events have borne out the supposition that complete dissolution will lead to chaos. It might be prudent to retain an Imperial body with voluntary membership.’
The Prince mused. ‘Very well, in principle the new democracy can be responsible for a collection of planets when it is elected and we do need to stop these petty uprisings. Your case Governor is not unique I take it?’
The governor bowed. ‘No sire. Most of my fellow delegates have similar tales of woe and there has already been much discussion about a solution before this audience.’
‘What is the consensus?’
Pallack raised a hand to hush the governor who fell back into the line of dignitaries. ‘My Prince, firstly we need to maintain our Imperial body as discussed and I trust agreed on?’
‘Agreed but I mislike the term Empire. We must be something new and inspiring. Of course it will ultimately be up to the new Parliament but as transitional caretaker I am going to suggest something like … The Confederation. What else?’
‘A declaration of the continuance of our society under the new Confederation will certainly go a long way to allay fears and prevent further small uprisings but it’s imperative that we send military aid to quell all these insurrections as well as giving our planetary governors, monarchs and lords full authority to use their local forces.’
‘Military aid? From where?’
Pallack coughed. ‘We have treated the former Imperial Army the same way that was done with the Administrative core. It seemed to make little sense to disband the rank and file so they have been instructed to await orders and continue training and garrison duties. Most of the highest ranks have been arrested of course or dismissed and we have already begun the process of integrating those in the former rebel army within their ranks. Naturally our highest personnel have been given positions of command.’
The Prince nodded thoughtfully. ‘Very well, so we can send troops to restore order but let it be known that our mission is one of peace. I will not tolerate indiscriminate killing and violence for the sake of it. We, gentlemen, must be better than those who came before us. We seek not to subjugate the unwilling but to stop bloodshed and protect our citizens. Servor, you have something to add?’
Servor approached the throne. ‘Naturally my lord Prince, the restoration of peace to the 60% of the former Empire that will remain within the Confederation is the top priority but I beg you lord, to not neglect the 40% who have chosen to part from us.’
The Prince frowned. ‘What they choose to do now is their own business Servor.’
‘Assuredly Great One, but violence and insurrection blossoms on many of those worlds and it would be prudent for our intelligence services to keep an eye on proceedings and ascertain that no power blocs arise to threaten the security of our Confederacy.’
Pallack weighed in. ‘Servor speaks wisely my Prince. Phlaxus 5 through 8 and the nearby Gannus and Orbion are subject to a popularist religious fad who are rising to power in the vacuum following the Emperor’s disposal. These planets lie directly on the southern edge of the future Confederacy and it’s my feeling that we should act now and retain these worlds as part of the Confederacy before their religion grows and sweeps either unaffiliated or Confederacy worlds. For the Greater good Sire.’
The Prince mused. ‘For the Greater Good. Perhaps … Perhaps, to avoid trouble later on.’
If you would like to read the rest of Coronet or Those Who Would Resist My Rule, simply head over to your local Amazon and type in ONE MILLION PROJECT. All proceeds to CANCER RESEARCH UK and the homeless charity EMMAUS.