16 January 2009

"The Coronation Will Not Be Televised"

By Curtis C. Chen

"Did you see the size of that one?" Jonah swatted away another insect. "What are these things?"

"Flay beetles," Richard said, walking through the swarm. The bugs seemed to move aside for him.

"'Flay?' As in 'strip off the skin of?'"

"It's just a name."

They had landed miles off target. Richard's fighters had sacrificed themselves so the prince's transport could make planetfall, but the Guard vessels remained in orbit, and the rebels who supported Richard's claim to the throne were still three days away.

Richard had assured Jonah that he knew the way through the jungle. They made quite a pair: Richard with his bronze skin and regal bearing, as self-assured as always; and Jonah, his pale face and white hair darkened by a layer of sweat, dust, and fear.

"Tell me again what we're searching for, milord?"

Richard smiled over his shoulder. "I haven't told you once. But we're here."

The jungle ended at the edge of a hill. Ruins filled the clearing below. A faded mosaic, showing the six-pointed royal star, was barely visible through the weeds.

Jonah sighed and watched Richard dash down the hill and into the remains of the throne room. He caught up with the prince at the dais, where Richard stood by the crumbling, vine-covered chairs.

"It's been a long time," Richard said quietly.

"Not long now," Jonah said, raising his arm.

Richard turned and stared down the barrel of Jonah's pistol.

"And what was your price?" Richard asked.

Jonah spit on the floor. "Loyalty can't be bought."

The prince nodded. "Will you allow me a final luxury?"

"Move slowly."

Richard extracted a dented tin and small blowtorch from his pouch. He put a cigarette between his lips and clicked the torch. It made a puffing noise, but no flame.

"Too bad," Jonah said.

"Please," Richard said, "let me try something else."

His hand shot down to his waist and came up holding a dagger. Jonah pulled the trigger on his pistol at the same time that Richard threw his dagger. The pistol failed. The knife didn't.

Jonah fell backwards. Richard jumped down from the dais. He pulled the dagger from Jonah's chest and drew it across the old man's throat. Then Richard wiped his blade and put it away.

A Guard gunboat rumbled into view above. Richard barely had time to stand before they fired.

The laser beam illuminated a circle on Richard's chest, but did not burn him. Nothing burned in Kansata's throne room. The damping stones in its walls prevented any combustion within a certain radius. Richard couldn't remember the precise distance, but he had guessed the dais would be included.

He opened his pocketwatch and held it up, reflecting the laser back. The gunboat's stealth-black hull absorbed the energy of its own weapon. Richard angled his watch-mirror and sliced through a turbine. The gunboat banked away.

Richard waited until he heard the crash. Then he opened Jonah's pack. The next three days would be even more challenging if he couldn't fashion some better weapons.



lahosken said...

Who brings a cigarette to a gunfight?

LC said...

A smart one? :-)

Actually now that I think of it, many do. Westerns, G-men, film noir, etc. But that could be because for so long in the media, smoking has been considered cool, gunmen have been considered cool, and a marriage was made.

Wonder how smoking will now be seen in the media now that the tobacco backlash is on. Hard to change perceptions.