Invito Rex – Chapter 9

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“As this text is focussed upon the reign of King Augustus, we will spend little time on the Gray Goo Diaspora. However, it is important for the student to understand the context of the time, so that the King’s actions may be better understood.

Nanotech is the study and development of microscopic machines, capable of performing simple tasks at an atomic level. The use of Nanotech was prevalent in 2440, in pollution control, security systems, fashion, and construction.

The Nanotech lab HFP (hijos fuertes pequeños) was engaged in military exercises with nanomites capable of repairing each other on the battlefield, using nothing more than the carbon atoms in the area. It was not uncommon at the time to build nanomites capable of replicating themselves, with strict life clocks. When a nanomite’s life clock ran down, it would cease to function, and be nothing more than a dust mote. One batch of 300, a prototype set, was set up to vary its life clock based upon the population, to ensure that the nanomite count remained static. However, a divide error inadvertently set them to a life clock of −32768 years, an impossible number to reach. As such, the nanomites were capable of replicating without any enforced expiration.

The diminutive robots replicated at an exponential rate, faster than the lab could contain it. Within hours, they had converted all carbon-based matter in the area into nanomites, including all the people in the lab and the lab itself. There were so many of the microscopic robots that they congealed into one large, slow-moving mass that ate itself and everything around it. In the space of a day, the “gray goo” covered most of Mexico, and was spreading into the ocean. The mass extended nearly half a mile into the ground around the lab before it was contained.

A chemical substance was developed that caused the gray goo to cannibalize itself, replicating only by taking pieces from other nanomites. This stopped the spread of the goo, but it took nearly a week to distribute the chemicals across the entire perimeter of the goo. After that, bulldozers and flamethrowers slowly pushed back the goo.

Three major cities were lost, in addition to half of the capital, leaving the country a barren wasteland of knee-deep silt. It was years before people noticed that the land beneath the goo had been stripped and saturated, and that the silt was far more fertile than before. Mexico quickly became one of the chief sources of food production, once irrigation and settlements could be instituted.

But they also found other changes in the land. One of the most popular was the development of the Root. It was a naturally-occurring drug that grew in the gray silt. Cuttings could grow in just about any other type of land, able to withstand punishing temperature ranges, and an extreme lack of hydration. The Root grew only in the ground, and offshoots that reached above the surface quickly died and became “Root Handles.” The plant itself had almost no useful properties other than a basic euphoria that happened when people chewed it.

The Root, distributed as a drug, was an utter failure. Because it could grow anywhere, it was impossible to regulate through pricing. Drug lords found no buyers, because everyone could provide it. The effects of the drug were generally seen as benign, and medically beneficial in some cases. It made the user feel happy, content with the world. Some duchies encouraged its use, after noting that it made their workers more pliable.

It was during the reign of King Augustus the Third that the Root prohibition was first instituted, a move that many have said caused the second civil war.”

– An excerpt from “His Perilous Majesty: the life of King Augustus the Third” by Professor Scott Osborn, PHD

Dizzy awoke early the next morning, partially out of anticipation for the security briefing, and partially out of dread for the same.

He was washed before his handlers entered, and was a little unnerved that they walked in without announcement. Astor and Wendy found him standing at the wardrobe wearing nothing but a towel. The nobleman of the day stood in the doorway agape.

“Again,” Dizzy frowned, “I would prefer my privacy to be interrupted by request only. In short, knock first.”

The young nobleman immediately turned and scuttled out, shutting the door from the outside. Dizzy expected a knock, but Astor continued as though nothing had happened. He surprised Dizzy by responding, “Yes, your majesty.”

His supplication was so immediate, Dizzy was unsure how to continue. Astor walked past him saying, “Please allow me to select your clothes for the day.” As he passed, Dizzy saw an angry red spot underneath one eye.

Wendy walked silently over to the bed and began removing the sheets. Dizzy caught her eye, then jerked his head toward Astor in confusion. She closed her eyes and shook her head sadly.

Dizzy nodded and turned back to Astor, “Ah, yes. Very well. I was thinking of something in green. Green has always been a good color for my complexion and hair.”

Astor nodded and removed a black suit, “I believe this would fit the day better, sir.”

Dizzy raised an eyebrow, “Black? Not quite what I would have chosen.”

Astor looked down at the ground, “Perhaps your majesty would prefer to begin the day wearing something else, then change just before the funeral.”

“Oh, yes. Good point. No, I’m not the clothes horse type. I’ll stick with the black.” He looked up at himself in the mirror, “You know, I never met him.”

Astor looked up at him, “Never?”

“No. I couldn’t really-” He turned to see them both staring, and sighed, “It’s complicated.” He turned to Wendy, “What was Cadvan like? I mean, as a person?”

Wendy frowned and looked out the window, weighing her words carefully. Astor surprised Dizzy again by saying, “He was a good king.”

Dizzy turned to him, and Astor nodded, “We were the closest Cadvan had to friends, and yet we all knew we were brought to be sacrificed.” Astor frowned, but Dizzy knew it wasn’t directed at him. “We were given up as sacrifices, and even if we wanted to forget it, Cadvan never could.”

Wendy said, “He was closer to us than any in the world, but he was still lonely. I don’t believe I ever saw him relax.” She took a deep breath, “He was kind, in his way. Very charitable, so long as everyone recognized his charity. He was popular amongst the nobility, which is, after all, the only thing that matters for a king.” Wendy’s eyes widened suddenly, and she apologized, “That was unfair, my liege. I’m sorry.”

Dizzy raised a hand, “No, it’s all right. I want to know.”

Astor shrugged, “Everyone knows Cadvan hated the commoners. It’s the worst-kept secret in the kingdom. The fact is, he wanted everyone to like him, but he didn’t want to like anyone.”

Wendy said in a small voice, “He told me once that to love someone is to open yourself up to pain and loss. I’d always wondered where he learned that.”

“I learned it when I was seven.” Dizzy looked back at the mirror, “So, did he look anything like me?”

Astor cocked his head to one side appraisingly, “The nose is similar, and your cheekbones are the same. His complexion was darker, and his hair as well.” He squinted at Dizzy, “And there’s something in the eyes.”

Wendy nodded, “Definitely. It’s a hardness or something. He used to use that look when he had to force someone’s hand.”

Dizzy opened his eyes wide in the mirror, “A hardness?”

“Well. Call it determination. The steel will of a leader.”

Astor sighed, “Call it what it is.” He frowned up at Dizzy, “Power.”

The entourage fell in behind Dizzy as he strode purposefully into the briefing room. He had left early, intending to be the first to arrive. Instead, the doors opened onto a madhouse of activity. There was a din of rustling paper, shouted conversations and the pounding of fists on the large, central table. People in expensive suits were hunched over terrain holograms. Men in military formal dress were shouting into comms. A porter pushed past Dizzy in his haste to deliver a message.

The king stood shocked, his train of hostages looking just as surprised as he was. Dizzy turned to Olivia, “Is this normal?”

She shook her head, her voice a whisper in the noise, “I’ve never been allowed to see this.”

Lord Dunem was in all of the groups, gliding easily from one crisis to the next. Each time one of the groups started to shout or lose focus, he stepped up to the crowd and made them report. A few words would send them back into a huddle to amplify an answer or try some new angle on the problem.

Lord Dunem saw the King, and moved over to him. The barest crease between his eyebrows gave away his concern, “Your Majesty. Today may not be the best day to begin your introduction to the security briefing.”

Dizzy’s eyes were wide as he surveyed the chaos, but he shook his head, “No. I should be here. I should be a part of… ah…”

Lord Dunem nodded, “Of course, sir. Very good. If I may remind you, though-” he slid behind Dizzy, closing the door between them and the outside hallway. Before Dizzy realized his entourage was on the other side of the door, Lord Dunem said, “This is a secure area, sir. I’m afraid those children are not allowed access to this information.”

Dizzy nodded up at him slowly. He worried about calling them “children.” Olivia was a couple years older than he was, but that seemed like a small detail in comparison to the crisis going on in the room. He turned to Dunem, “What’s happening in here?”

“I’m afraid we’ve had a bit of a difficult night. We have been burning the midnight oil on a few ah- ” he groped for the word, “disguised opportunities.”

Dizzy nodded, “Calamities.”

“Well, that may be overstating it a bit.” He raised his hands and clapped them twice. The sound was small and sharp in the room, but it cut through the noise like scissors through silk. All heads turned to face them, and the military personnel snapped to attention. Those who had been sitting now stood quickly, smoothing their suits.

Lord Dunem gestured to Dizzy, “Allow me to walk you around the room.”

Dizzy nodded and waved to the collected cabinet, “As you were.” He followed along behind Lord Dunem. As the discussions resumed, the volume level rose again to its previous pitch. Large, heavily decorated officers were shouting at one another like college professors arguing a point of philosophy. Dizzy was nervous even to be in the room, but he didn’t dare back out now. This was the job. It wasn’t eating fish on camera, and it wasn’t playing Circus. This was what being King was really about. He had to be the one to make the decisions.

Lord Dunem brought him over to a large group clustered around the head of the boardroom table. Dizzy recognized General Elling, and nodded to him. When the general saw him, he stopped mid-sentence and snapped to attention. The others around him followed suit as he said, “Your majesty.”

Lord Dunem said, “The king has not been briefed on this situation yet.”

General Elling said, “Understood.” He turned to Dizzy, “Sir. The prince of Nepal has disappeared.”

Dizzy blinked, “I wasn’t aware that Nepal had an aristocracy.”

The general continued as though he hadn’t heard, “Prince Raju, son of King Gagan, was last seen around o-seven-thirty yesterday local time.”

“So, that was about a day ago?”

“Two days now, sir.”

Dizzy nodded, then shook his head, “No. I’m sorry. I don’t understand. The Prince has only been gone a day?”

One of the other officers spoke up, “I’m sure your majesty is aware that Nepal is a key staging area for hopper bombing runs on Southern Sino borders and Middle Eastern targets.”

“I – yes.” This was the job. Dizzy could feel sweat in his hands, so he crossed his arms over his chest and held his palms against the black material of his shirt, “Of course. But the King is still in power. Are we worried that the Prince was kidnapped?”

The group looked around at each other, then General Elling responded, “We’re not ready to make that determination yet, sir. However, we know this is not a mistake.”

“How do you mean?”

“Nepal is a diplomatic ally, and we watch over our friends. We had people in the palace keeping the prince under constant guard. We know that he was in the dining room one minute, then gone the next.”

“So, whatever has happened was deliberate.”

“Yessir. Intel is sketchy at the moment, but we have boots on the ground, looking for him.”

“Do you know whether he was a willing participant?”

Another look around. One of the lieutenants walked away from the table, whispering into a comm system. General Elling replied, “We do not have that information at this time.”

Dizzy nodded, “Right. Okay.” He tried to think of something to say, “How is the King taking this?”

“He is upset sir, but has shown no indication that he intends to change our relationship there. There has been no ransom demand, no sign of violence. He is a careful man, sir, and not likely to jump at shadows.”

“Very good. Um, keep me posted as the situation changes. Also,” he turned to Lord Dunem, “I’d like to speak with King Gagan.”

The tall man raised one eyebrow, “My liege, it has been my intent to keep the news of King Cadvan’s death as closely guarded as possible. The news of your regency may not have reached Nepal.”

Dizzy frowned for a moment. He knew Dunem was playing a careful game, and he knew how bad communication was during wartime, but he simply hadn’t thought that it could be this bad. It seemed incredible that other world leaders would not know about Cadvan’s death yet, or that they would not accept his credentials.

He nodded to Lord Dunem, “Please inform King Gagan of my position, and send him my compliments.”

Lord Dunem nodded, “It will be done, my liege.” He turned back to General Elling, “If there is nothing else, the King’s time is precious gentlemen.” He gestured Dizzy on to the next group.

Dizzy leaned in and whispered to Dunem, “Was that all right?”

“What, sir?”

He jogged a head back at General Elling, “Did I do all right there? I mean, ask the right questions, make the right move?”

“Ah, well, there’s only one way to find out, sir.”

Dizzy considered that as Lord Dunem caught the eye of the leader of another group. They dropped their shouting match long enough to look at Dizzy and snap to attention.

He waved it away, not waiting for Dunem this time, “As you were. What’s the situation here?”

One of the group said, “Lord Atherton has introduced legislation which would label the Root as a controlled substance.”

Dizzy frowned. He’d heard of the Root, although he’d never tried it himself. It was a naturally occurring drug that flourished in areas where the gray goo had decimated the land.

And now, apparently, Lord Atherton wanted to outlaw it.

Dizzy shrugged, “That’s hardly a serious suggestion, isn’t it? I mean, the drug itself is available nearly everywhere.”

The speaker for the group said, “He has serious financial backing from several major pharmaceutical companies.”

Dizzy raised an eyebrow, “They want to outlaw the Root so they can make it themselves?”

“Not exactly, your majesty. They wish to make it a controlled substance so that it can be safely administered and regulated.”

Dizzy’s eyes narrowed suspiciously, “So what are the ramifications of that kind of move?”

“Assuming that this law passes, labeling it a controlled substance would make it illegal to possess or distribute without proper legal authorization.”

Dizzy grinned, “But that’s ridiculous. There’s millions of people who use that stuff for winding down at the end of the day. I mean, if it were Glow or something, I could understand it. That’s something you can handle with police. But it would be a tactical nightmare to outlaw a naturally-growing plant that thousands of people already have.”

The speaker took a deep breath, “Well, to handle this in a civil manner, the first step would be amnesty. The government would allow people a few months to a year, for them to turn over their illegal substances. After that time, it would be enforcement by observation. If the police see someone chewing Root, they would take them aside and fine them. After that, more stringent requirements would be made. People would be asked to support the police in tracking their infringing neighbors. Fines would be replaced by jail time and indentured servitude.”

Dizzy frowned, “That still sounds like an incredible waste of energy just to stop people from growing a bloody plant. What do we gain from this?”

“I beg your pardon, majesty?”

“What is the point of regulating this plant?”

One of the civilian advisors who’d been watching quietly said, “It’s a mind-altering drug. We don’t know the affects on all people’s chemistry. Any mind-altering drug is a danger to society because we don’t know enough about the human mind. Someone could have an adverse reaction, endangering the lives of others.”

Dizzy shook his head, “I’ve seen that happen with Glow or Cloud if you get enough of it, but I’ve never heard of Root doing that.”

“It is precisely because we don’t know all the details that this needs to be curtailed until all the effects are known.”

Dizzy sighed, “Has a single person ever had an adverse reaction which hurt or killed anyone?”

The civilian frowned, “We don’t have numbers on that yet. That’s why Lord Atherton thinks it is best to get this under control while we still can.”

“We’re talking about something people put in their tea, something they bake into their sweetmeats. Now we’re talking about filling our prisons with these people. It would be an incredible expense and a logistical nightmare.”

Lord Dunem cleared his throat, “It is possible, my liege, that Lord Atherton is aware of this, and is suggesting that the crown take on this duty. Only your majesty has the power to enforce such an act.” Though it was couched in layers of polite advice, Dizzy heard the warning.

The civilian advisor said, “If pharmaceutical companies are backing this, it is possible they are prepared to provide a synthesized version of the Root. One which has been studied and proven to be safe.”

Dizzy’s eyes narrowed again, “So Atherton makes the natural Root illegal, the pharmaceutical companies charge people for a fake, and then Atherton makes a killing by selling people a substance they could have made on their own.”

They all stared at him, waiting. Dizzy took a deep breath and asked, “So, who here thinks this has nothing to do with the Root? Who thinks this is really about Atherton wanting a fight?”

The civilian advisor said, “There is a health risk question, sir. Outside of the finances and politics, there is an obligation to keep the people safe.”

Dizzy took a moment to think about that, then said, “Keep working on it, but for the moment, my stance is that I’ll wait for them to introduce the law before I involve myself in it. At that time, I’ll decide upon enforcement. Of course, by that time, I will know which members of Parliament supported this.”

There was a general gasp from the group as Dizzy walked away. Lord Dunem hurried to catch up with him, “That may not have been a politic move, sir. You announced a very unpopular strategy before any move needs to be made.”

Dizzy nodded, “Yes. And Atherton’s lick-spittle heard me.”

“That’s Mr. Ethan Kruger-McEwen. He is a key civilian contact between Parliament and the crown.”

Dizzy said, “Ashford, look back at him. If I’m right, he’s on his comms right now.”

The old man’s eyes flicked to him and back, “You are correct, your majesty.”

“From his arguments, I would guess that he’s currently waving Lord Atherton.” Dizzy sighed, “I’d like to keep him away from any subject other than our dealings with Parliament.”

Lord Dunem nodded slowly, “It will be done, your majesty.”

“If we hear massive consternation from Parliament, we’ll know that they are taking it seriously. In fact, we should get a better idea for how serious they are about this law, and who is on which side.”

“Yes, your majesty. If I may, sir, I believe you may be wrong about Lord Atherton’s motives.”

“Oh? How so?”

“Well, your majesty, it occurs to me that the major result of the drug is a euphoria that makes the user more pliant and at ease.”

“Yes, that’s how it was explained to me.”

Lord Dunem’s brow creased just a little, “It seems to me that, if I were an employer, I would want to give my employees a drug that made them more pliant. It would cut down on disgruntled workers, ensure longer hours, and bolster profits.”

Dizzy stopped in mid-stride, “So, the pharmaceutical companies are hoping to sell to corporate interests?”

“It is possible, sir, that they want to limit access to workers who are on the job. If your people were happy and plaint only when they were at work, they would be more likely to do good work.”

Dizzy stared at the floor for a moment, frowning. He took a deep breath and said, “This changes nothing. My stance remains the same.” He took a step forward, then stopped again, “But if you could, start asking around to see what corporations are already discussing this with the pharmaceutical companies.”

“Very good, sir.”

In the back of the room, a clatch of servicemen stood around a map of Venice. Lord Dunem asked, “How are things here, gentlemen?”

They snapped to attention, then the senior officer, a young man with dark red hair and bright freckles, spoke up, “Sir. We have assets in the area, and are prepared for a ground assault with hopper backup.”

“The King has not been briefed.”

“Yes sir.” The man turned to face Dizzy, “Two days ago, intel discovered a genetic weapon was being developed in Venice. It has now escaped, and is damaging the countryside.”

Dizzy raised a hand to stop him, “Wait. A what?”

“A genetic weapon, sir. A creature whose original genetic structure has been altered for military purposes.”

“And what was the original creature?”

The freckled man blinked at him, “I’m not sure I understand the question, sir.”

“Before they started monkeying with it’s genetic structure, what was it? What was the base animal?”

“I think I understand now, sir. There was no one basic animal that we can discern. As near as we can tell, this creature was cut from whole cloth. It was designed and developed by taking elements of multiple other creatures, and turning it into one huge, fast, dangerous creature.”

Dizzy nodded mutely. In his experience, all chimeras were creatures made by taking aspects of one and adding it to another. The idea that a creature could be evenly split among multiple sources seemed disturbing. He asked, “Which animals were used to create this weapon?”

The officer shook his head, “We don’t have that information, sir.”

“How are you able to be so specific about it’s construction then? Do we have a man on the inside there?”

“No, sir. We are getting this mostly through satellite imagery and men standing just outside the limits of the city.” Dizzy saw a looping holo of a creature jumping across rooftops. The view was from the top down, so all they could make out was a dark shape running.

“Outside the city? What is our relationship with Venice?”

“At the moment, sir, they have not declared an alliance. Italy is a warzone right now, sir, with factions taking different sections every day. Venice is surrounded by different factions, and they’re using that position as a deterrent against any one side taking them over.”

“And that’s why all of our information comes from outside. So how are we getting this chimera theory?”

“Spies in the area have been talking about Venice working on a kind of super soldier. A creature that would be able to protect not only Venice, but all of Italy.”

“So when you saw this thing, you assumed it was the rumored project.”

The freckled man stood straighter, “Yes, my liege. We used our best intel to arrive at a determination fitting the facts. Since it escaped from its enclosure, the creature has scaled walls, run over rooftops, and dropped into the venetian lagoon beneath. Power has been cut in several large neighborhoods. We believe it was responsible for the sinking of three buildings.”

“But you can’t be sure of that, because we don’t have people underwater.”

“Exactly, sir. We only know that it jumped into the water, the police surrounded the area, and then the buildings began to fall.”

“Any casualties?”

The man shrugged, “Sir, this creature has been throwing thirty-foot boats at the police. It has sunk populated buildings, and run through several security officer units, not to mention whatever it did while escaping its enclosure. We can’t confirm any deaths, but it would seem unwarranted to assume that there have been no deaths.”

Dizzy nodded, “What are we doing?”

“Just waiting on your decision, sir. We have the second, fifth, and twenty-third in the area,” he indicated different points surrounding Venice on the map, “as well as the 257th sub group,” he pointed at an icon in the Laguna Veneta. “We have the firepower to enter the city and corner the creature, but not enough to hold the city.”

Another advisor spoke up, “Also, that would constitute an act of war with a power that has not allied against us.”

Dizzy nodded, “How are we with other factions in the area?”

The freckled officer spoke up again, “The Germans wouldn’t like it, but they have very little interest in Venice. The Spanish would be up in arms, but they’ve already joined the Russians, so their actions would be dictated by Moscow. The British wouldn’t care one way or the other. Switzerland may be the most upset about it, but their forces are spread out fighting a three-front war.”

“And the Italians?”

There was a short pause, then one of the other advisors said, “At this point, with all the divisions, there really aren’t any Italians anymore.”

Dizzy took a deep breath, “So who’s in control there? Who is it that’s been telling them to stay neutral?”

“Believe it or not, sir. It’s the mayor of the town.”

Dizzy blinked at him, as one corner of his mouth raised slowly, “Very well, contact the mayor of Venice, send him my compliments and ask if there is anything we can do about a recent power loss in the area. Inform him that we have specialists who would be able to deal with the specific causes of his blackout.”

Freckles stood straight, “Yes sir.”

Lord Dunem looked around at the collected clatches of people and said, “I believe that is all that needs your attention at the moment.”

Dizzy looked over the same tableau, “It seems like we haven’t scratched the surface yet.”

Dunem nodded, “This is true. However, I think you’ve addressed those issues which have the most pressing need.” He began to lead Dizzy back to the boardroom entrance.

Dizzy could still hear them, arguing over things he would have to learn about. The budget, royal subsidies, taxation, rising statism, rebellions, starvation. Soldiers were fighting all over the world, fighting for his country, and he still didn’t know where they all were.

His hands began to shake, so he laced his fingers together behind his back and held on tight as he followed Lord Dunem, “So tell me. Did I do all right?”

The lord raised an eyebrow, “My liege?”

“I mean, did I do what Cadvan would have done? Did I- “, he shrugged, “Did I do the right things? I mean, I still don’t know enough about-”

A young man called out, “Your majesty?”

Dizzy turned to see a lieutenant, gesturing at the comms holo, “King Gagan, as you requested.”

Dizzy froze, staring at the image of a regally-dressed old man, sitting in one corner. He felt strong hands take his shoulders as Lord Dunem turned him away from the door.

“One moment, please.” He began leading Dizzy to an adjoining office. The king was too nervous to form a protest.

As they entered the office, Dunem closed the door behind them and said, “You spineless little mouse. Never do that again.”

“I- what?” Dizzy blinked at him.

The tall man towered over him, forcing Dizzy to look up and take a step back, “You are the king now. You do not ask for permission, you do not ask for forgiveness.” His voice was measured, even, and yet it hit Dizzy with the power of thunder from a distant hill, “If it was just you and your wards, I could allow you the time to find out for yourself. If it was just among your noblemen, I could cover for the mistake. But you are about to speak to a king, and I have no more time to wait.”

Dunem pointed, “Outside that door, a king waits. Not a child who is trying to feel his way around new surroundings. That man is a king, and has been for most of his life. He knows how a king acts; He knows how to exploit the weakness in others for the good of his people. We need him, yes. We work with him, yes. But we never forget that he is not our friend.”

Dizzy nodded mutely, his arms crossing over his chest. He thought about the people who were counting on him to retain that land. It was a staging area for multiple battles. If he couldn’t provide that support for his people, there would be deaths. A foreign king could decide whether his countrymen lived or died, and he was not their friend.

Lord Dunem grabbed Dizzy’s shaking hands, “You will go out there now. You will meet with this king. But when you do, you will carry with you the heritage and hopes of a nation. You will bring not only Cadvan’s memory, but your father’s as well. You will bring the memory of King Richard, and Queen Allison before him. You will carry the souls and memories of Patrick, Anderson, LaFuente, and Cooley. You will carry the hopes and strength of more than a billion people, and when you speak, it will be with their words. You will not fail, because you will not be alone. I will be there, your advisors will be there. You will not be speaking for a single boy playing at the throne. You will be speaking for your nation, your people, your family, and your history. Do you understand?”

Dizzy stared at the floor, willing his heart to slow. He caught his breath and forced it to deepen. He felt the fear run through him, then pushed it down. He looked up at Lord Dunem and took his hands back, “I’m ready.”

Lord Dunem lead the king back into the boardroom, but fell a step behind him as they neared the hologram. Dizzy reached for his bracelet and unfolded it to place the crown upon his head as he walked. The old man in the holo looked tired and frustrated, lines of wear showing on his forehead and around his eyes. A simple circlet of gold wrapped around his head, covered in places by steel gray hair.

Dizzy spoke up, “King Gagan, it’s good to meet you.”

The old man frowned as he spoke. Dizzy couldn’t understand his words, but a translated voice repeated, “They tell me Cadvan is dead.”

“I am sorry to confirm it. This is new information, which has been kept close to prevent our enemies from taking advantage of it. I hope that I am giving that information to a friend now.”

He waved it away, “This is not Cadvan. I have no way to validate. I will not treat with a boy king that my country does not recognize.”

Dizzy caught the mistake then, and bit his tongue in frustration. When Gagan spoke, he didn’t talk about his people. He always used the first person, while Dizzy had spoken as a mouthpiece for the country. One king doesn’t speak to another as though they were the servants of a realm. Gagan knew that, and distrusted Dizzy as a civil servant.

In an attempt to correct this, he nodded, “Then we will not treat. It is just as well you have nothing I want.”

The old man frowned at this affront, “Then why are we here?”

“Where is your son, majesty?”

The King scowled at him, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Dizzy let that sit for a moment, then shrugged, “That’s fine. I was apparently given inaccurate intel. If your son is safe and sound at home, then I look forward to future dealings once you’ve validated who I am. I won’t waste any more time.”

The king stood up, his words now English, no longer translated, “Do you have him?”

Dizzy thought about making him twist on the lie, but only for a moment, “No. I know he’s gone, but we do not know where. Who else knows he is missing?”

The old man sat back down, “This is hard to know. I haven’t heard anything from the Germans or the Swiss today.”

Dizzy’s eyes narrowed, “But you were talking to them earlier.”

“Who I treat with is my business, pup! Nepal is a free country. If you desire my help, you will respect my autonomy.”

Dizzy nodded, “I thought we were talking about me helping you.”

“What can you do?”

Dizzy’s eyes flashed to Dunem, then back to the king, “I don’t know. We’re working on the problem now. If you will let us, I’ll send in experts who can tell whether this was a kidnapping or-”

King Gagan roared, “It was a kidnapping!”

Dizzy waited a moment, then said, “If you will let us, I’ll send in experts who can find the truth of this matter, and the parties responsible. After that, you may wish further help, or you may not. Either way, we will do nothing right now, as you have rightly insisted on verifying my claim to the throne.”

The king frowned, “If you did not intend to do anything, then why bother to contact me?”

“I wanted you to know that we are still your friends, and that your problems are our problems. If you will let us, we will help to keep your family and country safe. I look forward to hearing back from you, your majesty.”

Dizzy waved his hand past his throat in a “cut off” sign, then turned away from the holo. The image of the king winked out as he walked to the boardroom door. There was a part of him that wanted to look back. A part that wanted to see if the military advisors approved of his decision. A part that wanted to see if Lord Dunem supported him.

But those were parts of Dizzy. They were parts of the impostor who played at a position of power. The man who walked out of that room was King Augustus, and he did not hang his hopes on their approval.

As he left the room, his prisoners stood up from where they were waiting and gasped. Astor’s eyes widened. Dizzy frowned at all of them, “What?”

Astor answered, “That’s it. In the eyes. That’s what Cadvan had.”

Dizzy took a deep breath, “Fine. What’s next?”

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