EXCERPT: The Food Taster’s Boy by Ben H. Winters

CATEGORY: Absolute World Domination Successes

RULE 1235.813: When You Can Get Anything You Want, Be Careful What You Wish For

SOURCE: C., Despot of Earth

VIA: Ben H. Winters

Evil and genius are not bound together. Insanity is no guarantee of evil, either—madness can bend a great mind to kindness just as easily as it can send it spiraling into cruelty. But there can be brilliance in acts of evil; there can be a mastery of despair and torment. History is dotted with great (or infamous) men who have learned these secrets.

Our next story is the story of a man gifted in these dark arts of domination. His remarkable mind has found a way to bend the world to his liking, and his methods are both cruel and hard. He’s spent a lifetime bringing his boot down on the neck of the world, and now at the pinnacle of his success, he can only wonder what is left for him to conquer, what is left for him to achieve.

One of the things that inspired Winters to write this story was the contemplation of the empty lives of dictators and despots. He realized that there is a cruel paradox to have everything and yet to lead a life so hollow.

 

The Food Taster’s Boy
by Ben H. Winters

I: Melancholy

Periodically, C. toured the lands.

He traveled by boat, by truck, by revolving-bladed copter, by viperclaw, by rattling rail and in massive, battered silver air-frigates, swooping in over the villages, his smoke-black contrail drawing a thick, choking curtain across the land. On tour, C. would congregate the people of a village, inspect the teeth of the children, run his fingers along the lintels of the cottages and gaze down into wells. Sometimes, unspeaking, he left the villagers as they were when he came. Sometimes, he would command the strongest man to his knees, have him lashed to senselessness; burn a factory; dissolve a marriage; elevate an idiot pauper to some administrative post.

He undertook them at irregular intervals, these traveling displays of his all-encompassing authority. Sometimes months would pass from one to the next, sometimes years. Sometimes he would return almost immediately, doubling back to re-inspect the lands by a different route, to catch his subjects unawares.

But always he found the people as he left them: miserable where they lay in their meager homesteads, exhausted from their labors, reliant on his munificence, destitute of possibility, or hope.

Again and again he returned, for C.’s power lay in presence. He was there, or had just been there, or was about to be there again, at any time, at all times. Any thought of insurrection, any conspiracy would then be caught out before the barest quiver of an idea could develop into action. His presence was reminder that any rebellion, any thought of rebellion, would earn the famous consequences: the controlled fires, the slow deaths of the children; the caloric restriction; the rains of poison and the blackened sky.

C. was leader of his Earth and God of it.

He toured the land so belief in the presence of God would not wane.

***

But it was fast approaching the second decade since the last of the Wars, and there had been no insurrection, no whiff of insurrection. Two decades, and he lorded over a grim and broken people, minds dulled by labor, hearts hushed by fear.

As C. had envisioned it, so had it come to pass.

There appeared around this time—or it might be said that around this time there emerged, within C.—a new enemy, of a kind he had not previously encountered or imagined.

One afternoon, the clouds foul smears against a gray-blue sky, C. returned by revolving -bladed copter from his latest tour of inspection. He felt the thrust of the motors in descent and then the jolt of the forward wheels biting into the landing strip. He stepped out and his boot heel crunched on the graveled roof of Glory One, that sheer gleaming black giant, the last of the tall buildings. His home, and what he called, with a dark humor only he was free to enjoy, “the seat of government.”

He stood outside the craft. The engine churned down to silence, and the pilot and his guards stood in a respectful semicircle around C., waiting to proceed in his wake to the stairhead. But C. stayed still and silent. He tilted back his head, feeling in his gut a queer dark ache, a sensation of emptiness so sudden and so vivid that he shut his eyes against it and moaned, rocking slightly backwards on his heels.

C. opened his eyes to the north, to the sloping hillside littered with impoverished villages, to the parched hollow below it, dotted with factories.

His villages. His factories. His world.

“What then?” C. murmured, and took a step closer to the lip of the building and said it again, his voice a low, whispering rattle. “What then?

“Commander?” ventured the pilot, and C. rushed at him, seized him by the collar of his flight suit, kept rushing, forced the surprised, thrashing body of the pilot past the others, to the southern lip of the roof, and with a grunting burst of speed and strength hurled the man screeching over the side.

C. watched the body drop, saw it bang against the glass wall of the Glory, pinwheel out, grow smaller and smaller, until it was an insignificant speck slipping soundlessly into the water.

And still he felt it.

“What then?”

[End Excerpt]