Henry the MDCXXXIX

Many moons ago, I made a 2008 New Years resolution to “Write at least one crappy short story”.

As my linked post says, I did not get to it in 2008.

But! I have now written a crappy short story! I present it here, to you.

Yes, yes, I know it needs some serious editing. It’s got some issues that would be better addressed in a novella. It could use cutting down, but I figured I’d post it here and see what the reaction was.

For your entertainment…

Henry the MDCCXXXIX reclined on his barcalounger and counted cash.

If pressed he would defend the practice of collecting protection money. Royalty had been in that business for millennia after all. However, there was no one to press him. He was the King.

One of his subjects approached.

“Your Majesty, I regret the necessity of delivering unfortunate news.” Parcival, his personal valet was unusually practiced at bringing him unfortunate news. His other subjects knew that no matter how many times Parcival was executed, he would still deliver bad tidings to His Eminence, the Ruler of the Skies, King of the 8 Quadrants, Master of all he surveys, Head of the Church Everlasting, Prince of Principia III, Henry the MDCCXXXIX.

“What is it, Parcival?” Henry stretched his legs, squeezing his toes inside the massage slippers. “Can you not see we are busy?”

“A million apologies, Majesty. Your subjects from Principia II have transmitted a missive. It seems that Sir George does not choose to acknowledge your enlightened reign.”

“Fah!” King Henry staggered to his feet. The crumbs from the latest ration packet slid off his robe and sprinkled to the floor. The rock walls covered in third-hand tapestries shone wetly from condensed humidity. The conditioner was acting up again. Another execution soon.

Parcival moved slightly to avoid the swinging arms of the unbalanced King. Unbalanced in several ways; he had not been properly detoxified in weeks. Henry shuffled to the food dispenser on the wall and punched in the code for another ration packet. RATION EXCEEDED flashed silently in front of his eyes. He had eaten three meals already today.

“Stupid quarantine. How are we to demand discipline if we can not receive subjects here?! This is not how royalty will be treated! Our father and his father and his father built this rock, and we can trace a long line of ancestors back to that greatest ancestor of all! We demand our divine rights as King and Head of Church!” Henry thumped the dispenser and then put a hand to his head, fighting a headache.

“Parcival! We direct you to proceed to Principia II forthwith and determine personally why that lazy slob is refusing to pay tribute to our majesty!” Henry almost always shouted. “And afterward, We will need you back here so we may execute you!”

“Yes, Your Majesty. At your service.”

Parcival activated his Q-pass transponder. Without it, the police would not allow him on the slingshot to Principia II. Since the outbreak, all asteroids in the system were locked down to biological transport. Nothing that might transmit the virus was allowed to depart or arrive. Parcival was among the lucky few who could prove that he had been sterilized before boarding by the simple expedient of standing for 40 minutes in the upright autoclave. The same procedure was followed for every ounce that entered or left Principia III, which starkly limited the types of items that could be shipped and received. The rationing was getting more stringent as time went on.

Parcival bided his time in the autoclave next to stacks of finished machinery parts that Principia II obviously had some need for. He reviewed his last visit to Principia II and George’s remarks to him at the time.

“I don’t care who he’s descended from, I’m not paying into a protection racket, I’m not acknowledging anyone as my sovereign, and I’m damn sure not going to listen to some uppity android tell me what to do, and that’s final. If “king” Henry thinks he can ‘make an example of me’ I invite him to try!” George was not happy about Parcival’s visit. The last time Parcival had visited, eighteen of his underlings had been hospitalized with the virus and he’d had to deal with the pain-in-the-ass android himself. His arms had been very tired afterward. This time, his chief lieutenants were present, standing behind Parcival with lengths of aluminum pipe.

“Sir George, I appreciate your position, but the Majesty of King Henry shall not be denied. He is descended of Kings and God himself has appointed him the proper master of humanity. You must acknowledge his preeminence by agreeing to the tribute, which will be administered through the offices of his majesty’s subjects present here on Principia II. I myself am merely a lowly valet and messenger. The destruction of this poor body by the men behind me shall be of no use in escaping your destiny.”

George waved at his lieutenants, who had been preparing to pulverize the little android during his speech. They backed off a few feet. George glared at Parcival.

“Don’t call me ‘Sir George’. I am George and that is all. Calling me sir implies that I need titles or *anything* from that wretched slob you refer to as King. His plan to reunite the star system under his despotic rule is lunacy and I will not be a part of it.”

Parcival tilted his metal head in the way humans see as puzzlement. “Sir George, surely you are aware of the destiny of this system: to be one polity, united and prosperous under a strong government? We androids have carried this mandate for centuries. It is our raison d’etre, to assist in the reunification, our most important—”

“Don’t give me that crap. These stupid ideas of system stability through governmental reform went out with the quarantine. We’ve been stuck on these rocks alone since 20 years ago! Henry’s empire of asteroids fell apart through the “divine application” of the virus. Androids may remember some woe-begotten mandate from an ancient body of government, but we humans don’t care.”

Parcival reached out one hand to promote the feeling of pleading. “Sir George, it is the duty of all humans to restore the system government. His Majesty and his Father and Grandfather knew of this goal and strove to attain it. If His Majesty’s father’s empire had not fallen to the Quarantine—”

George interrupted. “But it did! And your new Henry is nothing like his father. His father was a righteous goofball, but at least he could administer an asteroid without resorting to gangland tactics. Henry is a worthless piece of scummy crap that I’d be much happier to scrape off my boot than give the time of day to. And now, if you don’t mind, I believe we’re done.” George waved to his lieutenants who proceeded to methodically smash Parcival into scattered bits. Afterward, he gathered up the remnants, placed them in a box and addressed it to “His Majesty, the Righteous Bonehead of Principia III” and sent it to the slingshot.

The autoclave beeped and the heating elements shut down. Parcival looked at the stack of metal parts and detected a slight slump to some of the more delicate pieces. Not quite up to the temperature of the autoclave, he supposed. Some customer was going to be very upset when they received the delivery. Just another sign of the deteriorating economy of the system. Something to be dealt with after reunification.

Parcival stepped out of the autoclave into the slingshot capsule chamber. Another android was busy loading the stack of parts into the holders set aside for them. Parcival backed into the capsule wall and a series of latches clamped down on his load points. He busied himself by calculating the probabilities that the parts already damaged by the autoclave would survive the slingshot trip. Once the capsule had descended to the bottom of the tether, it would be experiencing six gravities of acceleration before release. That was a necessary problem when using the asteroid’s rotational velocity to fling the capsule on an intercept trajectory to Principia II, never mind the braking maneuver that would be necessary to rendezvous once the capsule neared its destination. He doubted the metal parts would arrive in a satisfactory manner.

Parcival exited the autoclave on Principia II with his prediction intact. The metal parts had not survived the two autoclave treatments and the slingshot. His body, however, was constructed from more robust materials.

He walked through the rocky chambers, one after another scattered with the debris that accumulates after decades of neglect. A comprehensive government was necessary to rectify the situation that had befallen the system.

Parcival arrived at the chamber that George used as his base of operations. He transmitted a signal to indicate his desire to be received. He waited patiently as time passed, examining the variables which were interfering with his Majesty’s plan to reunite the system.

After 463 seconds, the chamber hatch opened. Parcival entered.

The chamber was superficially the same as his previous visit. The wall hangings were rearranged and George had added additional furniture. These were marks of his continued prosperity despite the economic throttling enforced by the quarantine. Several of George’s lieutenants were present, with slightly dented pipes. Relics of his last visit.

George looked up from the table he was at and asked without preamble, “Why does Henry keep loading you back into a new body? Doesn’t he get sick of purchasing new androids?”

Parcival walked forward to stand in front of the table. “I may only assume that His Majesty finds some worth in my continued services. It is my honor and distinction to place them at his disposal in whatever way he sees fit. At this moment, my services are employed to request and require that you, Sir George, become an obedient subject of his Majesty under the aegis of his righteous plan to restore a benevolent system-wide government. To that end I must…”

Parcival was interrupted by the clubbing of George’s lieutenants. He recorded the process, observing that the men were even more thorough this time although they had little chance of destroying his core memories. Lastly, before he was sealed into the box and his sensors cut off, he heard George say, “If it weren’t for the bounty, I would stop sending this thing back.”

Once Parcival detected the gravity spike that indicated he was at the end of the slingshot tether, he authorized the funds transfer to pay George his bounty. He also sent a message to Principia III to order the construction of a new android casing. Then he calculated probabilities.

Parcival waited at the entrance to His Majesty’s chamber. King Henry was busy with a biological function. After 802 seconds, the chamber hatch opened. Parcival entered and presented himself before his King.

“Parcival! What says Sir George to our demand? And how shall we execute you this time? We are bored with guillotines and rock crushers!”

Parcival stood upright and erect, his shiny new chassis presenting evidence of how well the interview had gone. “Your Majesty, I must again present the disconcerting news that your subjects have no respect for your current incarnation. Your plan to reunite the asteroids through economic extortion has met with almost universal derision. I must further inform you that my colleagues and I have consulted and determined that you are not showing the character traits exhibited by your most honored ancestor.”

King Henry the MDCCXXXIX started to purple. “Why you…”

“Finally,” Parcival interrupted, “I declare that in accordance with UN Resolution 109221, I do hereby revoke your charter to reunite the system government.”

Parcival activated his onboard particle beam, severing Henry’s head cleanly from his body. He placed the corpulent body and severed head into the waste recycling unit then walked to the dispenser and typed, “MDCCXXXIX unacceptable. Review protocols and deliver MDCCXL”

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