Deep in his heart, the old man knew he was going to die. He did not know whether it would be hours, days, weeks, weeks, months, or even years, but he felt his mortality heavily. Nearly all of his adult life he had been one step ahead of those around him, but now he felt several steps behind. When one had lived a long time, it was all too easy to forget that time continues moving and that there is a great deal of loneliness that can result from being so much more clever and intelligent than others around. It was a sensation that decadent ages would call ironic, and the old emperor sat on his throne and waited for others to tell him news that he did not want to hear, a common sensation when people feared to tell the truth because they thought it would get them in trouble.
While the old man mused sadly to himself about his seeming obsolescence, his closest living friend, the dinosaur whom he had met when they first settled the planet, mourned at his side as his bodyguard. Finally, someone entered the throne room looking as if they had drawn the short straw to bear the bad news. “Sir,” the man began hesitantly. “It appears as if someone wants your death.”
“That would make two of us,” the emperor mused sadly, uttering a truth that others would likely view only as a joke.
“We believe there is a group of disaffected people who is looking to spark a revolution, and that they have some sort of access into the palace,” the man continued.
“Well, that makes things considerably more interesting,” the emperor replied. “I suppose I am young enough to enjoy a good cat and mouse game.”
“You are not troubled by this news?”
“Not at all,” the emperor replied, “It is better for disaffection to be flushed out into the open, where it may be dealt with, than for it to linger like a cancer within. Summon my advisers, I would like to discuss the matter with them and see how we may leave the empire securely to my eldest son and heir.”
“Do you want him to be a part of these meetings?”
“Why not, he will be inheriting the empire soon enough. Let him see what an old man has to deal with.”
“Where will you have the meeting?” the man asked, now feeling somewhat more important that the emperor did not bark his head off.
“Here,” the emperor replied. “And let chairs be brought for all of them,” the emperor said as he relaxed in his throne.
The emperor sat politely with the dinosaur standing by his side as aides brought in chairs and tables to turn the throne room into a conference room. Eventually the advisers, most of them at least, and the crown prince walked in. The emperor frowned as he saw his eldest son enter the room. He could tell that there was, as usual, something that was clouding his feelings, and he wondered what it was. It had long been like this, and the emperor felt as if there was something he could have said or done that could have made things better long ago, but he wondered if it was too late now. It was hard to know how to deal with people, and how one’s decisions would affect the way that others felt, even if one had access to information far beyond what others did.
When everyone who was present had sat down at the tables arranged in a semicircle around the throne, the emperor began with a lack of ceremony. “I have gathered you here today because it has come to my attention that there are a group of people who seek to take my life and to overthrow our constitutional empire. I have lived long enough and, I hope to the Eternal, that I need not live in this tent longer than I serve the purposes of my Lord and King. But I do care to preserve this regime that I have ruled for so long intact to my son. And I wish it to be known that I call this meeting not because I am jealous to rule, but because I wish to pass down this throne as an inheritance to one who has waited long and loyally for it.”
The advisers squirmed uneasily in their chairs at hearing this, and the crown prince looked at his father, somewhat surprised. “You wish to preserve this throne for my sake?” the crown prince asked.
“Indeed I do,” the emperor replied. “Long before I have your younger brothers their apanage systems to rule over, I wished to preserve this empire for you, so that you would be able to run it after I was gone.” He looked at his son and could tell that something was going on in his head, some sort of struggle to reconcile the generous words that had been said with a feeling that the emperor had not, in fact, been generous to him, but the crown prince had too high a sense of dignity to bring a family quarrel about his feelings of suspicion about his father’s generosity of spirit into a public meeting, and so he resolved to be silent and to seek to understand the truth of the matter, a course that the emperor approved of.
“How do you propose we tear out this root of bitterness that has infected some within this kingdom? How do you think that we should expose this conspiracy and bring those who are working on it to justice,” the emperor continued, coughing a bit as he spoke with grim seriousness.
His advisers continued to squirm for a few seconds. Finally, the chief of internal security spoke up. “Can we not examine what has been searched for and said and communicated that would relate to a conspiracy?”
“I would figure that you would be doing that already as part of your job,” the emperor continued, to some titters among the assembled people, other than the emperor, the chief of internal security, and the crown prince, who all remained serious.
“As a matter of fact,” the chief of internal security continued, “I have looked at such things, but have found no group of people using the networks to look up information that would be questionable, whether that is the networks of transportation or communication or logistics.”
The emperor thought to himself what this meant. It meant that whoever was running this conspiracy had some sense, knowing better than to try to use networks that they knew would be under surveillance. Perhaps it would be possible to crack this case another way, then, he pondered to himself after a few seconds. “Rather than looking at the networks, then, perhaps it would be worthwhile to try to ponder what people would seek to avoid using the networks at all and whose intentions would be a black hole to us.”
“Well, there’s always the Amish,” someone piped up.
“That is true,” the emperor said, “but the Amish are pietists who mind their own business and live peacefully. Still, you are on the right track. “What we would want to find out are people who are clearly politically ambitious but who have sought to avoid using transportation, communication, and logistics efforts that would be tracked. And we might also want to check especially among those who have not bonded to any of the royal Korinthidons.”
With this the advisers sat all the more uneasily in their chairs, seeing as most of them had not bonded with any of those noble creatures. “Why do you think that is important?” the crown prince asked. It was an obvious question, but no less intelligent for being obivous.
“The Korinthidons are themselves creatures who read the intentions and feelings of those they are bonded with. Those whose intentions are evil would be found out, and those who wanted to do harm would seek to avoid places where their intentions might be read, anywhere where such Korinthidons were present. In fact, the persistent avoidance of such places would itself be a reasonable cause for suspicion.”
The group of courtiers looked to themselves and at each other, seeking to determine any sign of shadiness in the people around them. The emperor looked at his friend with a smile and could sense a certain degree of pleasure from the dinosaur in return.
“Why would a lack of bonding be suspicious?” asked the crown prince.
“it would be suspicious because the bonding process removes a high degree of privacy and puts one’s safety in the hands of a being that is very capable and very interested in defending themselves and defending the throne,” the emperor replied. “To be sure, a lack of bonding itself would not be suspicious, but the avoidance of the presence of one who could read a bit into feelings and thoughts and attitudes would be.”
“I see, and no one here is suspicious?” asked the crown prince.
“No, no one.”
With that the group was silent for a few seconds. “Do you wish for us to search for people who have been seeking to avoid the networks and avoid the Korinthidons but who have access to the palace and to positions of power and authority who have obvious political ambitions.”
“Yes, that would be the first place to look, I would think,” the emperor replied. “With that, this meeting is adjourned, except that I wish to speak with my son here alone.” Everyone quickly scattered from the throne room after what had been an unusually tense meeting for most of them. The crown prince sat in his seat and collected his thoughts.
“Please, my son, come here,” the emperor said, beckoning his son to rise and stand before him.
“What do you have to tell me?” the crown prince said somewhat stiffly.
“I believe I have wronged you these many years,” the emperor replied.
“How do you think you have wronged me, father.”
“When all of your brothers were getting their systems to run, so that they would rule a small part of the empire in peace, and not trouble you about the whole empire, I should have realized that you did not view this as a favor being done to you to avoid overly ambitious younger brothers but rather as a criticism that they were clever enough to rule but that you were not. When they were ruling over systems for the benefit of our empire as a whole and our family in particular, I should have given you something more active to do rather than rely on you to watch and observe how I ruled as a model to follow.”
There was a slight pause as the crown prince looked seriously at his father. “You can understand this?”
“I can,” the emperor said.
“And knowing this, why did you not tell me that you knew it?”
“I figured that if I told you, you might feel more resentful for me for knowing that you were envious of the activity your brothers had rather than pleased that I would now what you thought and felt.”
“You’re probably right.”
“I usually am.”
“How did you do this?”
The emperor did not reply but instead got up unsteadily from his throne and placed his forehead against the forehead of his son. For several minutes their foreheads were pressed together, their electrical systems in tandem with each other, and when it was done, the emperor sat back down on his throne. At this, the dinosaur called out and another, younger dinosaur rushed in.
“Who is this?” the crown prince asked.
“I believe this is your eldest son,” the emperor said to the loyal old dinosaur beside him. The dinosaur nodded in agreement.
At this the younger dinosaur moved in to place his forehead against the crown prince’s, now that he had been approved for bonding, and again for several minutes the two pressed their foreheads together, electrical systems in sync. When it was done the dinosaurs called out happily to have a new friend.
The crown prince looked stricken at his father. “All this time I thought you would choose one of my clever younger brothers for the throne, or once I had a son, that you would skip me for my son, whose intelligence you obviously regarded.”
“Your son is a clever boy, it is true, but he is still only a boy. And while your younger brothers were more witty than you were, they were also content to rule over systems while you were being groomed for the throne. No, all this time I have been trying to prepare the throne for you, to seek for the moment when you would understand that there is more to wisdom than bright and sparkling wit.”
“I am beginning to understand.”
“Good,” the emperor said, sad but relieved. “I was afraid you never would.”
And with this the two men wept, and the crown prince, seeing that he knew all he wanted to about his father’s love, wiped his eyes as he went back to his part of the palace.