Saturday, November 04, 2006

Shooting Star

Here's an exerpt from my December release Shooting Star.
It was parade day. It was also his birthday. The boy, impatient with the maid who dressed him, broke away from her constant straightening and list of instructions and ran through the luxuriously appointed apartment to his mother’s room.
His little brother was there, clinging to her skirts with his thumb stuck deep into his mouth as always. The boy’s face brightened at the sight of his older brother.
“Ben!” he said in his baby voice as he popped his thumb out and then back in.
Their mother gently touched the golden brown hair of the boy at her side and then removed his hand so she could kneel to welcome the older son.
“Happy Birthday Ben,” she said and swept her son into a warm hug.
“Is the parade really for me mother?” Ben asked.
“Yes. Your father and the people want to honor the day of your birth,” she said.
No need to tell the boy that it just an excuse for his father to placate the people and give them another show of his strength. With twenty-one sons, all of which were to be held in high esteem by the population, there was a constant celebration and parade through the streets of the capital.
“You’re father will come for you and honor you on this day,” the mother continued as she checked to make sure that the innocent face before her was clean and the clothing was appropriate. His eyes, so blue, looked up at her with childish excitement. She straightened a wayward curl over his forehead.
Not that it really mattered what the boy looked like. His father, the esteemed leader of their world, would stop at the appropriate place and display the boy before the people. He would be announced as the twelfth heir to the throne. This day only his mother would recognize the insignificant ranking of her son’s birth. She was nothing but a lesser wife who was gifted to the emperor by her father as part of a peace treaty. Her youthful beauty and grace were prominently displayed at the time. She was welcomed into the emperor’s bed, compliantly did her duty and then gifted him with another son.
Perhaps if she had given him a daughter it would have been a novelty and she would have earned a higher place in the order of wives.
Instead she bore another son in a long succession of sons. He was another trophy to the never ending greatness and sexual prowess of the emperor. And because the emperor had noticed her son do something exceptional one day during his warrior training the emperor was pleased and graced the almost forgotten wife with a visit and as the result another son, Stefan Andreas, was borne and declared the twentieth heir to the throne. And another wife had given him number twenty one. There would probably be more. Why even bother to count them after the heir and the spare both born to the same wife. The first wife. The honored wife.
“Did you have your breakfast?” she asked. It would be a long day for the boy. An exciting day.
“Yes mother.
“Good.” She smiled at him. He face held the promise of masculine good looks. The softness of childhood was giving way to the angles and planes of manhood. He had the same look as her brother, dead these many years, with his hair of golden brown and his bright blue eyes. And young Stefan looked just like him also.
How dear her brother, Stefanas’s, memory was to her after his death so many years ago in the planetary wars. His loss had devastated her father and the result was the treaty and her life as a gift to the conqueror of their planet.
“It’s time to go,” the mother said. She took Ben’s hand into hers and with the other took the hand of his brother and led them to the balcony that over looked the main thoroughfare of the capital city.
In the distance the shield wall that protected the capital could be seen. It shimmered beneath the assault of the two suns that were at their zenith in the bright yellow sky. The people were grateful for the shield wall; it protected them from their enemies. They were also grateful for the strength of their emperor and his armies. After all, without him they would be at the mercy of the universe.
Or so the emperor told them.
All the wives gathered on the common balcony that faced the street. Their apartments were all linked together by the balcony on one side and a private courtyard on the other. They all came forth, dressed in their best, with their children at their sides. All came forth to celebrate the birthday of son number twelve, Rubikhan Benjamin, born to the mighty emperor and his fourth wife, the Princess Rowena of the Planet Kalember.
The banners proclaimed it. The heralds proclaimed it. The broadcasters proclaimed it, placing the proper spin on all of it for those who were unfortunate enough to have to watch from their homes. The emperor is great. The emperor is strong. Long live the emperor.
“Doesn’t the emperor look great?”
“Isn’t the Princess Rowena beautiful, even if she is getting on in years?”
“How handsome the young Prince is growing.” The very image of his father. Or so they were told to report. All of the young prince’s were the image of their father. Thus his difficulty in telling them apart the broadcaster thought to herself. No room for such rebellion. Not if she wanted to succeed. She read the script as it ran across the screen before her.
“The young Prince is now twelve years old. It is reported by his tutors that the Prince Rubikhan Benjamin is exceptional in all of his classes, especially his weapons training. He has a natural ability that astounds those that watch him.” The broadcaster checked her screen to as the last sentence that she read seemed different than the usual rote that she was required to repeat at each birthday. Yes, she had read correctly. A sentence had been added. The young prince must be exceptional to have something different added to his publicity release.
“We look forward to seeing him lead our warriors someday,” she went off the routine script with a genuine smile.
The camera’s focused on the balcony and the women and children gathered there. Seven wives and twenty sons all lined up. They were all there but the eldest. He had moved on to be with his father a long time ago.
Rowena and her sons occupied the second apartment. She was second in political ranking only to the first wife. The first wife had given the emperor his heir and three other sons. Her fourth son was only a few weeks younger than Ben. The boy looked at Ben with his pale, sour face. Could he be jealous? He had his own honors coming in just a few weeks after all. Rowena took a half step forward to shelter her son from the vicious looks coming his way while she tried to remember the boys name.
Dyson. His name was Dyson. Chubby cheeks, weak blue eyes and white blonde hair. How could she forget his name? Was it because he looked so much like his mother?
“Look Mother,” Ben said.
The heralds were passing, carrying banners with her son’s name. Next there was a hover pod with a soldier on board. He was being honored for some great accomplishment. Rowena stole a look at the great monitor hanging on the side of one of the buildings. It showed a close up of the soldier with the subtitles of his feats. The soldier seemed bored as he slowly drove the small hover craft down the street lined with wildly cheering patrons. But he did wave to the crowd, which drove the gathered mob into frenzied screams of celebration.
Next there were the various officers and the current top celebrities. It was getting close to the arts awards day. The top runners were all on open hover pods, wearing their best smiles as they blew kisses to the crowd. One especially handsome actor flashed his famous smile and the women gathered along the street below screamed in appreciation at the treat.
“Where’s my father?” Ben asked. Impatient as always, he stepped closer to the balcony’s edge and looked towards his father’s residence, ignoring the honorees that were lined up right below his nose. Dyson stepped forward also, blocking Ben’s view.
Rowena’s face remained composed. She would not show her aggravation with the child. Since they were close in age he shared a tutor with Ben and it had become a competition instead of a class.
Rowena had advised Ben to let it be. It would pass. The boy’s dishonesty would show itself, just as his mother’s had, at least to the other wives. She had born the heir. Why did she always feel the need to remind them of it?
“He’ll be here,” Rowena assured him.
How many times had Ben actually seen his father? Twenty, maybe that she could remember. There was never a time when the boy had been with him, one on one. It had always been in passing. There would be a comment on his growth, a question about his studies and the typical urging to keep the boy’s focus where it should be.
Today would be different however. Today Ben was twelve and he would get to go with his father to the governmental palaces and share dinner with him while his father told him his plans for the future. He would be introduced to the powerful on the planet. He would be honored by all who came into his presence.
Today would be different. Her son was special. Rowena knew it. She had watched him, taught him, he would excel. He would be noticed. He would earn his place by his father’s side. He would accomplish great things. He would see the things that needed to be changed and he would change them.
After today, things would be different.
Rowena bent over Ben’s shoulder and inconspicuously pointed towards the east.
“There he is,” she said into his ear. Ben’s hands tightened on the balcony rail, his knuckles white with the strength of his grip.
How could the emperor be missed? His hover pod was, of course, riding higher than the rest. It was bigger, as expected; it needed to be because of the body guards, the huge black newfs that never left the emperor’s presence and the personal driver. The sides of the hover pod were covered with clear plexi to protect the esteemed leader of the people and the top was covered with an ornate crown like molding, indicative of the high position of its passenger. It was hard to see exactly who was inside but Rowena knew who it was. Who else could it be?
The heralds stopped below the balcony. Soldiers and security officers lined up. The stairs were cleared. The hover pod stopped and the emperor stepped out onto the platform that had been placed there, just for that purpose.
He waved to the cheering crowd and proceeded up the steps with the two huge newfs following. An assistant brought up the rear. Under his arm he carried a large clear celpad and stylus, which was no doubt the only way he could keep track of all the details of the day.
The emperor looked dashing yet elegant in his uniform. A man for the people. The protector of the planet. A loving father intent on visiting his son.
Rowena placed her hands on Ben’s shoulders and without a word he stepped back, holding himself at attention as he’d been taught. They waited for his father.
The emperor waved to the crowd once more as he found the summit of the stairs. He took a few steps and then stopped. The newfs quickly sat down behind their master, patiently waiting for the next subtle command.
Ben’s father stopped in front of Dyson.
“So you are turning twelve?” he said.
“Yes sir,” Dyson responded with a bright smile. It wasn’t a lie. He was turning twelve. In just a few days.
Ben’s shoulders tensed under her hands. Rowena squeezed her fingers over the tense muscles. Patience my son…Rowena’s eyes darted towards the assistant who stood at attention behind the emperor and implored him with her lovely blue eyes.
The man shrugged his shoulders after he checked his celpad.
Dyson’s mother’s face held a self satisfied smile.
He has the wrong child…
Who would dare to point that out? Who among this was brave enough to risk their lives to tell the emperor that he had made a mistake in front of the entire population?
Surely he would realize his mistake? If Dyson had any honor he would tell it himself. If Dyson’s mother was the woman she pretended to be, she would and could smooth it over and turn it into a victory for the emperor. Not only did he care for Rubikhan Benjamin but he cared for Dyson, whatever his other name was, also. It would and could endear him to the people. Why didn’t she see it?
Because it was her son being noticed. Not Rowena’s. Why was she so vindictive? It wasn’t as if Rowena got any of his attention. She was long forgotten, as she had hoped to be. She couldn’t stand the man. The thought of him sickened her. Yes he was handsome, yes he was strong, and yes he was seductive. But he was also a shallow pool, without even so much as a ripple given out towards those who should be close to him.
Rowena didn’t dare make a sound lest she seem jealous, or weak. She had to remain strong and without emotion. It was the only way they would survive the day. It was the only way they could survive the rest of their lives. They could not show emotion. Doing so would only weaken their position and their position was tenuous at best. Did not the man even know who had mothered which child? Could he not recognize the mother at least and then conclude the son?
Politics ran deep in the colony of wives, just as it did everywhere else in the universe.
“Then let us go then and celebrate,” the emperor said. He took Dyson’s hand and led him to the rail. He lifted their joint hands together in a signal of victory. The crowd seemed confused but cheered as they always did.
They had no choice in that.
Hand and hand the two went down the steps to the hover pod with the canines and the assistant following, as they always did.
Rowena felt the trembling of Ben’s muscles beneath her hands.
It didn’t show. His posture remained impassive and his gaze focused on the crowd below.
Be strong my son…
They remained so, all of them on the balcony until the hover pod disappeared from sight in its continuation of the parade.
There were looks of sympathy from the lesser wives. There was a smile of victory on the first wife’s face. They all moved inside until all that remained on the balcony was Rowena, Ben and Stefan.
A servant, quietly sympathetic, took Stefan inside.
“I don’t understand,” Ben said finally as the first sun dipped behind their building, creating long shadows that contrasted greatly against the orange hue of the sky. “It’s my
birthday,” he continued with a sigh.
“He made a mistake,” Rowena said. The all powerful, all knowing, had made a mistake.
“Doesn’t he know me? Doesn’t he know who I am?”
How could she explain it? How do you tell a boy that his father doesn’t really care? That it’s all for show, and pageantry and pomp. There was only one son that concerned him. The heir, which even now had his own room close to his father so that he may learn best how to rule.
“You and Dyson are close in age. Perhaps he got the dates confused.”
“But my name is everywhere,” Ben pointed out. “He would have to know it is my birthday, not Dyson’s.”
Not if he didn’t know the difference between them. And not only did he not know who was who, but his assistant didn’t know either. After all, he had been the one whispering in the emperor’s ear.
Justifying it didn’t excuse it. A father should know his sons. He should know all of them.
Rowena didn’t know what to say.
“Why didn’t you tell him it was me?” Ben asked. He took a step forward, removing himself from contact with his mother. Her hands reached for him, then dropped as Ben stepped to the balcony rail and gripped it once more.
A gentle breeze, herald of the coming sunset ruffled the banners that proclaimed his name. Even now they were being removed from the parade route, the workers busily efficient so that nothing of this day would remain. After all they had to prepare for the next one. They had to get ready for Dyson’s.
“You didn’t tell him,” Ben said. His voice cracked on the words. Whether from emotion, or just the fact that he had begun the change into manhood, Rowena couldn’t tell. The shoulders remained straight and the spine rigid as the boy looked out over the street.
I didn’t tell him…


  1. How sad! You've drawn me into the characters with this one scene. It reminds me of the maneuvering among the wives of King David immediately before his death, but of course any dynastic harem must have been similar. Obviously the reader knows Ben is destined for greatness -- I wonder what that "natural ability" consists of.

  2. Ben, or Ruben as he is now was an interesting character to create. He was born in my mind when this guy I worked with did a silly dance and I said I'm going to put you in a book. His response was can I have this really cool knife and boom, Ruben was created. His character kept nagging me in Stargazer and when his story came about I really enjoyed creating his back story. As far as greatness is concerned he does make a difference in someones life.