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January 30th, 2022
From the dusty mist a figure emerged. The blocky pieces of plated armor clashed with the soft patina of filmy air as he moved. Out into the clear air he moved, until there was a clear view of the desert basin.
The evening sun was crimping the far horizon and the figure sat. Lucilius threaded a thumb beneath the edge of the cylindrical helmet and lifted till the shell was aloft and he breathed the fresh air. Straggled hair matted his forehead, and he twisted his head, stretching his neck, the bones clicking from their cramp.
From a compartment of armor on his leg he dislodged a flask. The tiny cap split and unravelled by it’s mechanical apparatus to unveil an opening. Lucilius drank long and deep the searing liquid, and then he breathed deep and sighed from a long day of work. He glanced to his side, where lay the clothed bounty of his day’s work, soaking through the fibre.
He smiled softly at the sunset before the pleasant sense of a day’s work soured as he registered the particular sound of space splitting, spreading and forming a portal.
Lucilius closed his eyes, disagreeing to the flood of memory filling his mind. His long meditation practice, kept up even in this universe held them at bay before embracing them, allowing old times to flood over him like a neutral stream, neither hot nor cold.
He looked toward the sound of the split space, the portal. Swirling in suspended air was a whirlpool of shimmer, now bigger than the width of his two hands, and before it, a tiny critter, gazing up at him with large eyes.
“What.” Lucilius demanded.
“Your majesty, your opinion is greatly desired.”
“How long’s it been?”
The little critter - somewhere between a rabbit and a tiny dog, it’s garish talking jaws awkward below it’s pendulous blinking orb eyes - seemed to huddle into itself as though it had made an offense.
“Your majesty, our readings indicate you have been a resident of this world for nearly two centuries!”
“No.” Lucilius stated. “How long has it been? Not in this reality, but ours?”
The little creature’s eyes fell lower and seemed to search the stone ground for some kind of answer besides the one it held. It mumbled something.
“What.” Lucilius stated.
The tiny creature looked up again. “Forty-five.”
“Forty-five what? Hours?”
The tiny creature cast it’s eyes down again. “….seconds.” it stated quietly.
“Forty-five seconds? You can’t handle things for forty-five seconds while I have a little fun playing a video game?”
“You excellencey. The galaxy is most anxious at your decision to abandon reality.”
“Abandon? Are you kidding? I’m away for 8 hours while I sleep, and people are complaining about forty-five seconds. It takes longer to go to the bathroom for Zeus’s sake. Give it up Hermel. What’s the real issue here?”
The little critter looked even more uneasy. “Sire, it’s more the principle behind the matter that people have been bothered with.”
“Hermel,” Lucilius said. “If a group of people can’t order and regulate themselves then democracy is null and void. A supreme chancellor is of little point if the point is to be a despot. It might seem like a silly issue of semantics but the practical ramifications of one role and definition as opposed to the other will rattle to the cold edge of the universe. I will be no parent to the whining throngs of people, and they must learn to govern without me - by trial of fire if it need be.”
The tiny creature looked askance with a sad and nervous seriousness that almost made Lucilius feel guilty.
“Hermel,” Lucilius said, “Old friend.”
The little critter looked at him. “They will be just fine, I promise. I prepared them.”
The little critter looked unsure.
“Yes sire?” The critter said looking up at Lucilius.
“Stay with me a while. There’s fun to be had in this wonderful universe.” He motioned with his hand at the wide horizon, the shades of azure, maroon, and violet cascading up to endless stars.
“Sire, I could never, I have responsibilities!”
“And so do I Hermel, and how long have I been gone again?”
“Well that’s been about two centuries of adventure for me, Hermel. So stay with me, Twenty seconds at least. We’ll have a grand old time ricocheting across these endless systems. You won’t be gone more than an eye blink, and in that time I’ll tell you how to run that old universe. Your wife won’t miss you a second.”
The tiny critter’s face was cramped with uncertainty. “Sire, it’s very forward.”
“Oh shush Hermel,” Lucilius said, standing. The critter gazed up at the gleaming maze of armor his master wore. Lucilius pointed at his helmet, and the tiny critter scurried toward it, as though it might somehow raise it to the tall being. But as Hermel came close to the helmet, Lucilius bent and scooped up his advisor with the helmet and launched him up to his shoulder. The nervous little critter shrieked as it landed and scrambled for a hold a top the shoulder plate cascading from Lucilius’ neck.
Lucilius laughed. “You’re going to love it Hermel.” The little critter looked back at the portal. Lucilius raised his spread palm and clenched the wide set fingers into a fist, and the portal blinked out of existence.
“How!…. how did you do that?” Hermel shrieked.
“You don’t spend centuries here without learning how to edit the game.”
Hermel’s nervousness rose till his tiny body quaked.
“This was always my plan Hermel.”
“What do you mean Sire?”
Lucilius turned to look at the small critter on his shoulder. “To bring you here. This is your training Hermel. You will be the new chancellor. This is how it’s been done for thousands of years, and now it’s your turn.”
The critter’s eyes grew wider and wider. “But sire! Sire! I can’t possibly, I am but a mere aide!”
Lucilius laughed, and laughed as he walked forward, descending the rocky terrain toward a starship in the valley below.
“Oh Hermel, you think of yourself like everyone else does: a mere aide, a servant to me to do my bidding.”
“Yes! Yes!” Hermel exclaimed. “That’s what I’ve always meant to be.”
Lucilius continued to laugh. As he hopped down from rocky ledge to ledge. He slid the helmet back over his head and the laugh grew muffled and deep. The critter clung more frantically to the shoulder plate.
“Hermel,” The echoed voice of the helmet grated. “My servant, shall be a servant no longer. You shall have to become more than you want.”
Lucilius stopped and turned to look at the big disbelieving eyes crouched on his shoulder. “The moment you walked through that portal to visit me, to plead for my return on some tiny, insignificant matter of state, you bound yourself to a century of training. Fifteen or twenty seconds will pass, but here, we will grow closer than ever before, and if we survive, and if I can fulfill my most important function, you will return the chancellor of the galaxy.”
The tiny critter’s eyes grew widest, as its tiny jaw chattered.
A metallic laugh echoed out from the helmet.
“Oh Hermel. Relax. We’re going to have quite a bit of fun…”
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