CHAPTER 1: THE REAL TREASURE
“Explain to us again,” Sevan asked Ay-ttho, as they walked in front of the Presidential palace. “What is our job? What are we supposed to do?”
“This is the last time, Sevan,” Ay-ttho sighed with impatience. “We are representatives. You represent the mining colonies. I represent the corporation security clones and Tori is the representative for Republic security clones.”
“But who chose us, and what are we supposed to do?”
“Xocliw chose us.”
“Shouldn’t those we represent choose us?”
“You are so naïve, Sevan. If you allowed clones to choose their own representatives, those wishing to be chosen would resort to popularist measures in order to get elected, rather than representing the best interests of the clones. It is much better to select individuals best suited for the task.”
“How are we best suited?”
“Don’t question things, Sevan. At the moment, we each inhabit luxurious apartments and have all we could need.”
“As representative of the concession mining clones, does that mean I can visit the Doomed Planet?”
“I’m sure it does,” said Ay-ttho. “We should organise such a trip right away.”
“I heard Xocliw has made Nadio speaker of the Senate.”
“That is true.”
“And Scotmax a senator?”
“Oi, you lot!” Tori shouted at a group resting on a wall outside the front of the palace. “Don’t you have homes to go to? Be off with you, loitering around here.”
“He’s taking his job seriously, isn’t he?” Sevan whispered to Ay-ttho.
“I know. He’s not even responsible for palace security.”
“Are you on holiday?” Tori continued. “What are you doing hanging around here? You there? What is your job?”
“I construct the interiors for apartments,” the shocked individual replied without questioning Tori’s authority.
“Then where are your tools? What are you doing walking around here in your best clothes? You? What do you do?”
“I mend shoes,” said the second individual.
“You mend shoes? Does that still happen here on Future?”
“Then why aren’t you doing it today? Why are you leading this lot around the streets?”
“To wear out their shoes and make more business for myself. No, seriously, we have come to the palace today to share in Xocliw’s triumph.”
“Xocliw’s triumph?” Ay-ttho blurted out. “The population of Future turn out to celebrate Xocliw’s triumph over Chuba and yet you were here celebrating Chuba’s presidency following the death of President Man, weren’t you? Any excuse for a holiday, Chuba’s triumph, Xocliw’s triumph, go back to your homes.”
“Away with you!” shouted Tori.
The group went away without protest.
“You know it is Lupercalia,” Ay-ttho warned Tori.
“Oh yes, any excuse to get drunk and fornicate.”
“What’s Lupercalia?” asked Sevan.
“It’s a festival. They call it the festival of the real treasure, a bit like Binge on The Doomed Planet. It’s an excuse for the population to get off their marbles on fushy and pish.”
“Tell me more about this festival.”
“No one knows the true origins, but they have celebrated it for 2,500 solar cycles, at least. According to legend, there was a President of another galaxy who ordered his co-begotton’s offspring to be ejected into deep space.”
“His co-begotton had promised not to reproduce.”
“Do you want to hear the story or not?”
“Of course, sorry, go on.”
“The guard charged with ejecting them into deep space felt sorry for them and placed them in a long-term hibernation unit. The unit travelled across space until it landed here on Future. The offspring were the first founders of the Republic.”
“You mean they reproduced with each other?”
“They must have.”
“Exactly. Anyway, legend has it that the offspring developed the technology to return to the galaxy of their origins and kill the President that had ordered their deaths. They celebrate Lupercalia every year to mark the founding of the Republic.”
“But wouldn’t the President have already been dead by the time they made it back to the old galaxy?”
“I don’t know. Maybe they discovered a wormhole or something. The population of Future are partnered at random and attempt to reproduce.”
“I’m so glad I’m asexual.”
“I don’t care whether it is Lupercalia,” said Tori. “If I find any of them on the palace grounds, I’ll drive them away. They use Xocliw’s victory as an excuse to celebrate while we are all her prisoners.”
“Shh, someone might hear you,” said Sevan, looking around.
Xocliw was walking with her latest partner, Calpurnio. Allecram, her adviser, was trailing behind them with Scotmax and her partner Nadio, Scotmax’s begetter, Yor, Xocliw’s offspring Oiluj, his partner, Enyaw, and High Priest Callahan.
“Calpurnio!” Xocliw shouted.
“She speaks,” Calpurnio mumbled to himself.
“Get out of the way, can’t you see Allecram is trying to get through?”
“Yes, President?” asked Allecram, not aware that he was trying to get through.
“Touch Calpurnio as you pass, will you?” said Xocliw. “They say it will cure the sterile if they touch the fertile during Lupercalia.”
“Your wish is my command,” said Allecram.
“President?” called High Priest Callahan.
“Who is calling me? What is it?”
“President Xocliw, I must urge caution. Our intelligence suggests this is not a time to take risks.”
“You and your superstitious mumbo jumbo, Callahan. Come on, let us go.”
“Do you support her presidency?” Enyaw spoke quietly to Scotmax.
“Not particularly, but the population seems satisfied. Listen to the cheering in the streets.”
“I’m not asking about them. I’m asking about you.”
“I don’t expect you to support his presidency. Xocliw killed your begetter, after all.”
“She may have killed my begetter but my partner is Xocliw’s offspring and my loyalty is to him “
“Is it? Listen to those cries. It had better be with your partner because his co-begetter is very popular.”
“Why her, Scotmax? Why not you or I? She is no more special than we are.”
“Be careful, Enyaw. That talk is treasonous.”
“Discuss the matter with Nadio, that’s all I ask.”
“Allecram? I want you to find me a new guard,” Xocliw asked her adviser. “I don’t trust Enyaw. She is young and full of ideas. I don’t like anyone who thinks too much. They are dangerous.”
“You don’t need to fear her. She is loyal to Oiluj.”
“I don’t fear her, but she has taken to spending too much time with Scotmax and Scotmax reads too much. She observes everything and sees through our deeds. She never smiles, she’s too restless. She is dangerous. Come away with me and tell me what you think of her.”
Xocliw led Allecram away from the group.
“Nadio, can I have a word?” asked Scotmax.
“Yes, what is it?”
“Have you noticed anything strange about Xocliw?”
“You’ve been with her as much as I have.”
“You don’t think she has some illness?”
“If anyone is ill, it is us.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Did you know that when they inaugurated Xocliw as President, she first pretended to refuse it?”
“She play acted as if she was not worthy and begged the crowds’ forgiveness. They lapped it up. Allecram it was who was offering the presidency in a piece of theatre you would never believe.”
“But the crowd did?”
“Oh yes, they loved it.”
“Scotmax!” said Enyaw, approaching. “We must get to know each other better, come to our apartments to eat.”
“Yes, or you to ours.”
“Let me know when you are free.”
Nadio had already begun to walk back to the palace. Yor joined her.
“Is everything okay, Nadio?” he asked.
“We have suffered many trials, Yor. But I was never so worried as I am now.”
“I have been having terrible dreams. I think something bad is about to happen.”
“We certainly live in strange times and nothing is certain. Ah, here is the entrance to my apartment. Take care, Nadio, don’t worry too much.”
Yor entered his apartment, leaving Nadio to wait for Scotmax.
“What’s wrong Nadio?” she asked as she approached. “What were you talking to my begetter about?”
“Only the strange dreams I’ve been having.”
“You worry too much, Nadio. We have a good life here. We should enjoy it while we can. You look pale, as pale as a thug can look. What will be will be, Nadio “
“You know that on the next rotation, the Republic senate is going to ratify Xocliw’s presidency?”
“Why should that worry me?”
“Why do you were that weapon at your side, Scotmax?”
“Why shouldn’t I? I’m not afraid of Xocliw’s tyranny.”
“You should be.”
“Why should Xocliw be a tyrant? She may think herself a tronqak and the population of the Republic mere cukids, but that makes her no different from any other president.”
“You plan and scheme. I know you, Scotmax.”
“That’s as maybe but…”
“Shhh, someone is coming.”
“It’s Effeek’o, Nadio, look. Effeek’o, how are you? I haven’t seen you since Herse. How are your patients?”
“Well, I hope. And how are you both? Are you well?”
“As well as expected. What brings you to Future?”
“They have invited me as a special adviser to the senate, but between you and me, I had an ulterior motive.”
“Oh, yes? And what might that be?”
“The cause for which we all fought on Angetanar. Now is our opportunity. Have you spoken to Enyaw? We must make an alliance.”
“I doubt that should be too difficult, but perhaps you should speak with her yourself.”
“I will do that.”
“Good. Let’s catch up later. If you’ll excuse me, I need to find Sevan.”
Effeek’o, Nadio and Scotmax said their goodbyes and Scotmax went off to find Sevan
“Ah! There you are,” she said when she eventually found him. “Can I confide in you?”
“Of course you can.”
“I’m worried about Xocliw and what might happen when the senate finally ratifies her presidency.”
“What do you mean?”
“I worry it may tempt her to abuse her power, like her co-begotton and her begetter and her co-begetter.”
“I see what you mean, quite a lot of family history there. Be careful what you say, though. Look, Enyaw is coming this way and there are others with her.”
“I can’t see. Do you recognise them?”
“No, can’t say as I do. No, wait, I can see now that Nadio is with them, and Effeek’o from Angetanar. Plus some others I don’t recognise.”
“Hello Scotmax, I hope we are not disturbing you.”
“Not at all. I was just visiting my friend, Sevan. You know Sevan?”
“Of course, we have seen each other around the palace.”
“Do I know all your friends here?” asked Scotmax.
“Yes, Nadio and Effeek’o, obviously. Do you know Di’Shon and Bernard? They are both senators sympathetic to our cause.”
“I am familiar with your work, very pleased to meet you. Are you sure it is safe, meeting like this?”
“Yes, do not worry. Lupercalia preoccupies everyone.”
“Ah, yes, the real treasure. That should keep everyone busy for a while. What about my begetter, Yor? Should we include him in our plans?”
“Yes we should,” said Nadio.
“Of course,” said Effeek’o. “I know he was a staunch supporter of Kirkland, but Matthews’ betrayal has turned him against the dynasty. He will be with us, for sure “
“His reputation would lend our cause a great deal of credibility,” said Di’Shon.
“I doubt he will join a cause started by others,” said Enyaw.
“Especially not if he knows you’re involved,” agreed Scotmax. “You were our captor, ”
“Not I, but my begetter,” said Enyaw.
“Nobody is to be touched except Xocliw, is that correct?” asked Nadio.
“Good point,” said Scotmax. “Allecram is very loyal and may become an obstacle. We should consider including him in our plans.”
“Let us be assassins but not butchers,” urged Enyaw. “If only we could kill Xocliw’s nature rather than Xocliw herself. Our operation must be clinical. This is not time for hacks. We need to be considered purgers, not murderers, and as for Allecram, don’t worry about him. Without Xocliw he is completely impotent.”