“Was there ever a more certain sign that things have gone to hell? Look at it. That’s the realm out there, all litter and scraps, bits and pieces blown about by the wind. So much bravado on the face of it, for a few fleeting moments, but forgotten and discarded as easily as one of those whores you used to fancy.”
Gard and I sat on a low wall, our feet dangled a few inches from the ground. The late-afternoon sunshine gave everything a golden glow. Except his mood. He was as erasable as ever in his old age.
“It was just a parade, Gard.”
“And when did we ever need a parade before? When was it necessary to a wag a big stick to control the realm, to say to the galaxy ‘We matter’?”
I thought about that for a moment. I had never seen a military parade before, rail guns mounted on trailers, space-to-space combat drones, off-world tanks and smart missiles—all had lined up in a long procession for blocks. Each was shiny and new, like the men and women who marched in unison beside them.
Now I stared out at the confetti littered streets, the wrappers and discarded signs, the aftermath. The shine was all gone. Where to, I couldn’t say. Perhaps shipped off and returned to the battlecruisers and battalions, off to the moon and the weapons depot there. Even the pride was missing. All that remained was the debris, the decay—and two old men to wrestle with their melancholy.
“Everyone else seemed to enjoy it.”
“Well, of course they did. Dangle something shiny in front of them and they’re happy for a while. It doesn’t change the fact that we’ve lost twelve systems in the last year, or that those systems have all gone to Alanon—like the jobs and so much of our culture.”
“Things change,” I said. “What can you do?”
Gard sighed deeply, kicked a heel against the wall. “Where did it all go wrong?”
“For a long time,” I said, “we ruled well. We were fair. We created and celebrated opportunity. We welcomed others to the party.”
“We were betrayed, I think.”
“How?” Asked Gard.
“You have to understand how empires are built. They form around grand ideas and access to plentiful resources.”
“We had those.”
“We did. But we didn’t protect them. And they also require an engine that drives them, some vision and passion that catches hold. We had that, too. But it was destroyed.”
“I don’t understand what you are saying.” Gard looked at me with weary eyes that I knew hadn’t rested in a long while. He was tormented by what used to be, and by the things that were coming.
“All empires are built on the backs of a strong working class and an enterprising middle class. They are the ones who make things. They innovate. They create culture when they have opportunity and time and the resources to make things happen.”
I smiled at him. He still couldn’t see what I was getting at.
“My friend,” I continued, “we—the leaders, the elite—were greedy beyond reproach. We took all of the resources and wasted them. We fought change and advancement. We coveted not just what was ours, but their’s as well. We stole from them and we stole from the Crown. Instead of protecting them, and by extension the realm, we beat them into second-class citizens because we believed we were different, better.”
“You’re saying we betrayed the realm!” Gard was angry.
“I’m saying we betrayed the realm.”
I thought over the last several decades. I had sent our troops into war and wasted valuable resources when diplomacy was the better course. “It was all so prideful. All those wars, think what we could have invested in had we not chosen to start them.”
“But the wars were justified,” Gard replied.
“They were a sign of our weakness, Gard. The strong needn’t fight. The wars were a precursor to this, an awful parade to wag a big stick at the galaxy. We chased away the good ideas to Alanon, all to protect what was ours. But at its best, I think, an empire is an idea and we tarnished that.”
The sun sank lower while we contemplated.
I sighed. “It was a good run, but now it is time,” I smiled, “to chase one of those whores I fancy, while there is time.”
in category Fiction