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- Mikhail Bulgakov

Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 50

The huge stainless steel door opened excruciatingly slowly, creaking and straining as it moved along it's path from closed to opened. For the first time in a year light came into the dank and gloomy dungeon room. Sitting in one corner of the room was a bent and broken man. He was as pale as a sheet, with a long flowing biblical beard, a shriveled and shrunken head, bulging eyes, lengthy fingernails, and tattered rags that had once been rags clinging to his skeletally thin body.

He shrank away from the light. Though it was dim it seemed painfully bright to this man who had been in perpetual darkness for six years. With his head turned away, he couldn't see the shadows of figures in the light of the doorway, but he knew they were there. He heard the sounds of footsteps, and then the arduous closing of the door. The man finally looked up.

"You look terrible, Oosan," said Bleda Khan.

"You've changed completely, Mabus," said Toghril, a withered husk of his former presidential self, "At one time you were a little rat of a man, always plotting away in your head. I could see it in your face. Now you've grown thoughtful, but not conspiratorial. You seem a leader. You have the bearing of a..."

"Emperor," said the Mongolian leader.

"An emperor, yes," agreed the ousted president.

"It's June 11," said Bleda simply.

"I know," said Toghril, then broke into a lengthy series of wet, hacking coughs that racked his whole body.

"My god, Oosan, it's the Nadam Festival. You used to love the national games. The equestrians, the archers, the wrestlers..."

"I'll not go!"

With all the pitiful force he could muster, the former president of Mongolia brought his fist down on the hard, slimy floor of his cell. He began coughing again, and when it subsided, Bleda began speaking again.

"Look, Oosan, I've never broken a law in my life but to put you here. I never violated the speed limit, never accepted a bribe, nothing. I'm sorry I ousted you, but it had to be done! I've regretted it every day of my life so far. The people wanted an empire; there was no bloodshed. The worst thing I've done in my life is to put you here."

"The people never wanted an empire," sneered Toghril, "No race ever wants to be ruled. We overthrow the Communists so many years ago for just that reason. They want democracy. They want freedom. They want me!"

Bleda shook his head. He began pacing the room.

"They don't want you, Oosan. Look, a republic can be a hundred times worse than an empire. It all depends on how it's run. The only difference between a democracy and an empire is that in one the people elect their leader and in the other they don't."

"It's not that simple."

"But it is! It's not a necessity of imperialism that civil rights be denied! I'm freeing these people even more than you did! I'm giving a home to the Chinese migrants."

"As I recall, you were the one who wanted to stem the tide of the Chigols."

"I did," Bleda conceded, "But that was because I knew they were overflowing the country. I realized two things had to be done when the migrants started entering our country. The first was that an empire had to be formed so that there could be better organization of the greatly increased populace. The second was that we had to expand our lands to provide enough room for the migrants.

"That meant stopping the flow of Chinese into Mongolia. If it had been allowed to continue unabated, there would have been unemployment, squalor, and death from overpopulation. I had to close the borders for long enough to expand the borders into Russia. Then I let more migrants in. I had enough forces to invade China after that, and the Chinese now all had a benevolent hand."

"Benevolent? The people have no hand in the government. They don't want you, Mabus!"

"They do! They've said it a million times, a million ways. I would have gladly dissolved the empire in an instant if I had thought the people didn't want it. But they do. They don't want a lengthy bureaucracy, they don't want to vote. They're happy to have a competent ruler."

"You're saying I was incompetent?"

The question stagnated in the air, stinking the feculent room up even more.

"Yes," said Bleda finally, "You know why I'm willing to give up power, right now, on the spot? It's because I care about the Mongolian people, and the adopted Mongolian people. I was willing to change everything, if the people were happy. All that you ever cared about was preserving the Mongolian democracy and way of life. That's the difference between us."

Toghril seemed to want to change the subject completely.

"You arrested me six years ago," he said with some pride, "And I understand a war began three years ago?"

"We spent three years building up our military capabilities before we launched our assault against Russia. Look, Oosan, I'm not here to debate politics with you. I'm here to invite you to the Nadam Festival. I want to free you for this."

"I'll not go," said Toghril sharply.

"Damn you, Toghril, you're not a martyr! The people never saw you as a martyr, and they never will! They've forgotten completely about you! It serves no purpose for you to stay here!"

"What about the rebellion?"

"There is no rebellion, Oosan! There never was a rebellion! No one was loyal to the democracy. You've been deluding yourself for six years. I've tried to free you six times, for each Nadam Festival. But you've refused every time. You can go, Toghril! I'll keep you here if you insist, but you must go!"

"You know, Mabus," the prisoner said, "You once thought me a reprehensible beast. You hated me once, thought I was a fool. Now you're trying to give me some kind of retribution. Right here I serve a purpose as a symbol for the revolution. If I leave, it'll be seen as a sign that democracy is weak. I'll look as your puppet. I'd prefer that you still thought of me as reprehensible, Mabus, but I will not compromise my beliefs for my freedom, because it would only be a bribe."

The Emperor nodded knowingly.

"I see that you value your freedom so much you are willing to give it up. I once pitied you, Oosan, but you disgust me once again. I'll return in a year, and if you should change your mind at any time tell one of the guards. But stay here, accomplish nothing, be a cause with no rebels. You want it, so I'll give it to you. I'll say good day now. I'm already late for the national games."

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