A BULLET FOR SASLO
Another younger brother, another funeral.
I couldn't sit by the bedside this time, or the coffin. There hadn't been a bedside and the coffin was empty except for a few symbolic items. Garma had blown himself to bits quite thoroughly and I'd have to make do with what I had.
I didn't know which annoyed me more, that he was dust being sneezed from the noses of allergy sufferers in Vancouver or that I was now going to have to cope not only with the fact he was dead but with my family's reaction to same.
Nonetheless, amid Dad's moping, Kishiria's fury and Dozel's thumping around the palace making a lot of noise, I realized that the pipsqueak had given me a gift I must not misuse. We'd taken a lot of blows to morale lately, and I'd been thinking we needed a symbol to rally the troops. Cecilia had suggested some charismatic young girl, a Joan of Arc figure. I liked that idea and was pondering how to audition such a person when the news came to me.
I don't know why they bothered with a chaplain; it's well known that I'm an atheist. Cecilia was the one to whom the chaplain reported, of course. She told me later that night about the sense of dread she'd had as she opened my office door. I looked up from my desk, immediately noticing that Cecilia was uncharacteristically nervous.
"Your Highness," she began in a trembling voice, giving me a half-bow, "Reverend Captain Angela Trang, Chaplaincy Corps."
All I could think at first was, "Bizarre. What do they want me to confess?" Then it dawned on me what Mother Trang was here to tell me and my mouth went dry.
The young priest who stepped through the door practically smelled of the oils from her ordination. She looked terrified, with huge eyes emphasized by her brushcut. She wore the brown uniform of my sister's Earth Attack force. She snapped to attention, saluted, and reported. I told her "at ease" and she spoke the words I expected.
"Your Highness, your brother Garma is a hero…"
I remember feeling shocked but I don't remember her words. I listened to her speech, picturing her sitting on the transport from New York, sweating all the way, rehearsing over and over again what she would tell me. I didn't envy her her job.
"Have you told the Sovereign?" I asked when she was finished.
"No, Your Highness. Reverend Colonel McCullough is doing that."
"Then I'll meet with His Majesty shortly. Thank you, Captain, you may go."
She executed a short bow, saluted, turned neatly and left the room. As soon as she was gone, Cecilia approached my desk, intending to give her condolences.
She didn't reach the desk before I bolted from it into the bathroom, where I promptly lost my lunch.
My job has given me exquisite stomach problems, so this wasn't the first time Cecilia had been around when I was vomiting. She waited as I flushed the toilet and stood up to rinse out my mouth. It wasn't until I was putting some toothpaste on my toothbrush that I noticed she wasn't exuding her usual calm concern. She was shaking. I brushed my teeth rapidly and turned to the woman who lived and worked by my side.
"Are you all right?" I asked, pretending I hadn't been the one just retching up his most recent meal.
She shook her head. "Garma's dead. I can't believe it."
"Get the minister of communications on the line. He'll have to issue the press release, inform the media."
"Did Captain Trang tell you what happened?"
I didn't want to let on that I hadn't heard a word. "I'm afraid not. I think she just wanted to shepherd my soul and be done with it. What did she say to you?"
Cecilia swallowed. "The details are still coming in. Garma engaged the Trojan Horse in Seattle. Something went wrong. They were able to attack his Gau from the rear. He turned the ship around and tried to destroy them in a suicide dive, but the engines of the Gau exploded too soon. That's how he died."
Giren, don't tell Dad, but look at this. I got a tattoo!
A memory overtook me, of Garma showing me his new ink. A tribal band embraced the crest of Zeon around his skinny pale arm. He'd been so proud.
"He would do something like that," I said. I closed my eyes in thought. "That could be what saves us from disaster."
"What do you mean, sir?"
I frowned as the first tiny stabs of a migraine began above my left eye. "Think of the blow to morale, Cecilia. The war is at a stalemate. Millions have lost family members with nothing to show for it. Now the Royal Family loses a very popular member. It could devastate us politically."
"Unless you use it to show solidarity with the people," Cecilia put in softly.
I opened my eyes, feeling a burst of affection for her. She'd second-guessed me. "You're always brilliant, my dear. We are indeed going to play that up. But will it be enough?" The pain was growing and I raised my fingers to my forehead.
"Go lie down on the couch. I'll get the painkillers."
Migraines run in the family, but I'm convinced they must be at least partly psychosomatic. This one was simply too well timed. I lay down as she'd told me, and she dimmed the lights before bringing me some painkillers and a glass of water. She'd just sat down and taken my hand when the phone rang. Cecilia dutifully answered, putting it on speakerphone for me.
"Lt Irene, Kusko Al," the familiar voice of the palace operator said.
"This is Lt. Irene."
The voice of my father's assistant came through the speaker. "Cecilia? When is Prince Giren going to be able to come to see His Majesty? Degin's asking for him."
"Prince Giren is indisposed at the moment. Where is the Sovereign?"
"In his sunroom. I hope Prince Giren can come to him soon. He…really could use a family member right now."
"Have you called Dozel and Kishiria?"
"I've told Dozel. He is telling Kishiria. They should be here within 48 hours."
"48 hours. That's not much time," I said from the couch.
"Your Highness?" Kusko asked.
"Never mind," I told her. "Tell my father I'll be there shortly."
Cecilia ended the conversation and hung up. She returned to me, sitting on the couch at my side. "How bad is it?" she asked, taking my hand and starting to massage it. That always helped, for some reason.
"Not bad. Not yet at any rate." My fingers closed around hers and I drew her close, drawing her bosom down around my face. Cecilia had a magnificent bust and I liked being snuggled against it. She cradled my head gently.
"I'm sorry, Giren," she whispered.
"So much to do," I told her. "So little time to do it in. I need to know everything about his death. Every detail. It's all relevant. We must use it all. Nothing can be wasted."
Cecilia is the only person who is allowed to shush me, within reason of course. This was within reason. I let her hold me until the painkillers kicked in.
I saw my father, and there is little to say about that. The old man sat in his chair, a photo of Garma in one hand, and a glass of whiskey in the other. Pathetic. I made some suggestions about Garma's funeral. He didn't want to talk about it. I think he wanted me to act like family.
Well, it was too goddamned late for that.
Saslo had never agreed. "Look, Mom died, and Dad remarried," he half-shouted to me in a bar once over a round of beers. "It happens. What's he supposed to do, become a monk? "
"But it's Nalisse," I groused at him.
"I'll admit, it looks pretty bad that she's so much younger than he is," Saslo agreed. " I know you have the hots for her, but Dad was there first."
"She's only 11 years older than me, Saslo."
He nodded in agreement. "Well, you can always console yourself with her being a gold-digger who you were lucky enough to avoid."
"You don't think she's a gold-digger," I said flatly, propping my head on my hand.
Saslo sighed. Years later, I'd notice that there really were traces of his face in Garma's, in the wide mouth and large brown eyes. Saslo's hair was strawberry blond, though, and curly. "No, I don't. Now that I'm an adult I've taken some time out to have a few lunches with her and find out what she's about. If you gave her half a chance, you might see that she's actually not an evil stepmother at all. She's with Dad for something other than his money."
I snorted. "That being?"
He lifted his glass. "She told me Dad makes her feel safe."
I know that was somehow meant to explain things, though not to comfort me. Saslo knew better than that.
If Dad made her feel safe, I wonder if the irony was lost on her as she died of a massive hemorrhage on a delivery room table in 0059? Probably.
Reports started coming in from North America. Its command was now headless. That was Kishiria's problem, and I wanted to talk to her about how best to marshal the forces there. I felt that there needed to be more movement towards Jaburo. Later.
I insisted to Cecilia that we not go home too late. Already the outside of the palace was becoming a circus. From a room higher up, we could see the crowd.
They were a young bunch, mostly. They came forward together or in little clumps to drop flowers there, or leave signs, candles, and stuffed animals. Teenaged girls clutched each other in soggy grief.
My first thought was disgust. They hadn't known him. My second thought was glee. What a massive flood of emotion for me to harness. This crowd was going to be like a lachrymose ball of clay in my hands. I could form it into anything I wanted, and I was going to. It'd be easy, and what's more, they'd deserve it.
Cecilia had a good observation as we rode home in my staff car. "They're going to be flocking to the recruiting office by the drove."
"Or the herd," I commented dryly. "It'll probably be good for us. We're overpopulated as it is." She shifted uncomfortably in her seat.
As she went upstairs to make dinner, I opened my library door to visit my cats. They were draped ornamentally around the room in their various perches. When I sat down in my armchair, Little Stupid hopped up into my lap in that gravity-defying way cats have. I ran my hand down her sleek black fur and she gazed up at me with those emerald-green eyes of hers, purring. Then she glanced over to the couch that stood a few feet away.
Garma had always slept on that couch when he visited me. Inevitably, whenever he came over for dinner we both overdid it on the wine and he ended up spending the night. Even though he was allergic to cats, and though we had several guest bedrooms, he always insisted on the couch in the library. Nasal sprays kept his nose from running too badly, but he'd always be wheezy by morning since the cats curled up against him all night.
I'd never get drunk with him again. He'd never again commandeer my couch. Now there was only Dozel and Kishiria, and while Kishiria was quite a witty drunk, she was too much Oscar Wilde and not enough Hunter S. Thompson to be my choice in drinking companions.
"I suppose there's always Delaz, when he's in town," I said to Little Stupid, ignoring Big Stupid, who was bumping his head against my leg for food. Little Stupid looked sarcastic, as if she knew I was full of it. This is why I'd decided I liked cats. Dozel has a dog; they think everything you do is right and good. Cats know better.
I got up to dish out the kibble. As I did so, I stopped to notice the paper underneath the dish. The maids had access to a pile of old papers that they could put under the dishes to keep stray kibble off the floor. This one was a page from Garma's Honours thesis, Against Contolism: Zeon Deykun Re-evaluated in Light of the Writings of St. Gustavo Gutierrez. I thought his topic was nonsensical, the thought of my mentor viewed through the lens of a 21st century liberation theologian, but he proceeded in a logical enough fashion that I'd agreed to help him with it.
Soldier, musician, philosopher…there were many sides of Garma that others could use in the funeral oration. I would not.
Eleven years ago. Another personal library of mine, long since abandoned as my collections grew. Still the same atmosphere though; cluttered with comfortable chairs and tables and a slight hint of incense in the air since I didn't smoke back then but I did have bohemian taste in scents.
Garma was sitting on a barstool near me. For some reason, the blue and white sweater he was wearing stands out in my memory, probably because the room was reasonably warm and he was always cold. He was ten and small for his age still, but there was nothing underdeveloped about his intellect.
"Second aorist active, 'to take'," I told him.
He stared straight ahead in concentration. "Elabon, elabes, elaben, elabomen, elabete, elabown."
"Elabon again," I told him. "We're not talking a genitive plural noun here. Nonetheless, well done."
Garma glanced over my shoulder and smiled. I followed his gaze and saw that Saslo had quietly slipped into the room.
"Don't you think he's a little young for ancient Greek?" Saslo asked.
"I'm not. It's not hard like Hebrew."Garma said.
"We both got very frustrated with Hebrew," I admitted.
"And is Giren teaching you any living languages?" Saslo asked with his usual grin.
"He's not, Miss
Parker is. I'm learning Spanish and French. Daddy says that I
have to be ready to be a diplomat when I grow up." "Dad's
right," Saslo said. "You're a prince now, and they're
expected to be able to talk to all kinds of people, and make them see
his point of view."
"Dad's right," Saslo said. "You're a prince now, and they're expected to be able to talk to all kinds of people, and make them see his point of view."
Garma smiled. "I think I can do that."
"I think so too. But you'll have to excuse us, Garma. Giren and I have to talk business."
I put a slip of paper in his textbook. "Start reading the next chapter. I don't expect you to memorize all the endings, but I do want you to know what the future indicative is, okay? We'll talk about how to use it tomorrow."
I reached out. "Give us a kiss."
Garma fell obligingly into my arms and kissed me on the cheek. I passed him to Saslo, who did the same before seeing him out the door into the care of his bodyguard.
"He seems to be following happily in your footsteps," Saslo said, dropping into an armchair and leaning a heavily laden backpack beside it.
"We can hope," I told him. "I enjoy being Garma's tutor. He's bursting with natural curiosity. I'm glad Dad's not stifling that. It certainly took him long enough to realize that normal school was not right for me, nor me for it."
A cloud passed over Saslo's face, but before I could ask about it he said, "Anyway, I picked up those books you wanted." He undid the top flap of the backpack and began taking volumes out of it. My heart sang; the books were bound in cloth, not cardboard and shiny paper. The edges of the pages were darkened and stained by age. They felt solid in my hands, weighty with sheer ontological bookness. I opened one, running a fingertip down the rough rag paper, feeling the imprint of the Germanic letters, smelling a dusty odour that told me I'd have to store these with extra care. This second doctorate of mine was on mid-19th century German philosophy as it impacted contemporary politics and I was so happy to have chosen a subject that gave me an excuse to have books like this in my possession.
"How much do I owe you?"
Saslo told me and I
quickly wrote him a cheque. He accepted it and said, "If you want
to raid the bookstores in Riverside this often, maybe you should
I sat back down, shaking my head. "The houses there tend to be smaller than this flat. If I'm going to move my books, it'll be to a place larger than this."
"The houses are small, but the neighbourhood is right for me and John. The cafés there are always good and he can walk to the sculpture gallery."
I nodded. "Book storage and study space are my priorities."
Saslo looked glum again. "Listen, I was talking to Dad. There's going to be lifestyle changes for you and me in the future."
I groaned inwardly. I like change and stirring things up as long as I'm the one doing the stirring. "I can tell I'm going to need some tea. Follow me to the kitchen."
We left the big double room that served as my library and walked into the kitchen. As soon as the kettle was plugged in, Saslo said, "Dad wants to have a family meeting about this, which means you, me, and Dozel, but I wanted to give you a heads-up. Now that he's the Sovereign and we're all princes, we have to start playing the role more. Dozel's going into the Academy, which is perfect for him for now. You have to start working more closely with Dad, like I've been doing."
I shrugged. "This whole royalty thing was my idea. Now that the crown's on Dad's head, I'm going to sit on the sidelines until this book's finished. After that, he and I can talk." I opened up my tea cupboard. "What kind of tea do you want?"
"What do you have?"
"What don't I have is the question?"
Saslo considered. "Irish Breakfast. Listen, you're going to have to do something other than sequester yourself in here, writing. It's all fine and dandy we have funny antiquated titles in front of our names, but we have to work out what our weight is to pull."
I poured boiling water into two mugs. "Saslo, just say what's on your mind, would you? Those books are burning holes into my study table."
"Dad wants me to get married."
I stared at him.
"He can't ask you to do that."
"He can and he did."
"You've been with John for four years. Does the old man honestly think you're going to break it off with your partner just because he asked you to?"
Saslo shook his head. "You know Dad's never been thrilled with the way I am. He wants to start entrenching us as a royal family by merging us into other royal families."
"But the only royal families are on Earth."
"Yes, I know. That's the useful alliance part of this."
"I'm the oldest
sibling. Why didn't he ask me?"
Saslo stopped to take out his tea bag and add sugar and a slice of lemon. "Because it's his chance to make me completely non-embarrassing. Also, you and I are the only adults, and I'm the nicer one."
I slammed down my mug. "What? That old bastard! I'm a nice enough guy. Ask anybody who attends my parties!"
Saslo laughed. "No, dear brother, you are not. You're coldly polite to people and it goes downhill from there. Add booze or drugs to you and you're the life of the party, but that's not quite the same thing. Oh, and you're witty as hell and fun to be around at times but overall, I'm sorry to break it to you."
"Not a nice guy," I growled into my tea. "We'll just see about that."
Cecilia disturbed my reverie. "Dinner in half an hour," she said.
I looked up over my shoulder, realizing I'd been staring into the cats' dish for about five minutes. "All right." I stood and let my feline companions enjoy their supper.
Cecilia came into the library, closing the door behind her as was the household rule. She was still in uniform, as I'd meant to ask her to be, since I knew we'd probably end up back at the office before the night was through. Sometimes she seemed to be able to read my mind, and I wondered if she was a New Type.
That illusion was shattered when she came up beside me, took my hand, and asked, "You know you can talk to me about it, my love."
I pulled my hand away. "Not now, Cecilia. There's work to be done."
"You didn't spend much time with your father."
"I'm well aware of that," I said curtly.
"All right. I just don't want Kusko Al on my case."
"I'll handle Kusko Al. In the meantime, find out when Dozel and Kishiria are due in. I'll also need to talk to Garma's lawyer about his funeral arrangements."
"Isn't there someone else in the palace staff who handles those?"
"There is. I need to tell him there's been a change of plans."
"But sir, you haven't even seen what your brother wanted at his funeral."
"It doesn't matter. They're irrelevant to us."
She blinked at me, opened her mouth once as if to speak, then shut it and went on her way.
Garma's lawyer was easily handled. She was able to come by with a copy of Garma's instructions that I looked at briefly and dismissed. I was willing to consider some of Garma's wishes if they played into my vision of what this funeral must be. They didn't, and after some argument I had her arrested under the War Powers Act, with instructions to toss her corpse into an incinerator after dispatching her with a shot to the head.
"Let's get to bed," I told Cecilia after the Royal Guard had hauled off Garma's attorney. "The next few days are going to be exceptionally long."
The night was longer.
Cecilia fell asleep within minutes as she always did. I closed my eyes and tried to do the same, but my brain wouldn't switch off. Thoughts chased each other frantically through my mind. I tried to think of what I wanted to funeral to look like, how to buy every flower in the entire Side, what units would be allowed to attend…
…a blue and white sweater and a little boy who just couldn't learn Hebrew.
I got up and went downstairs to my library where I wrote in my journal and made out lists until I finally became drowsy. I lay down on the couch and pulled the afghan, which Cecilia had knitted, over myself.
Three years ago, Garma, Cecilia and myself on this couch, drinking wine. We'd finished off one bottle and were working on a second. I was in the middle with Cecilia cuddled against my side and my other arm around Garma, who was petting Alexander the Great. Garma was out on a pass from the Academy, which he received frequently since he was now required to attend events with the Royal Family.
Cecilia asked the very routine question of whether Garma was seeing anyone special.
He shook his head. "No. What's the point? Dad's just going to hook me up with someone anyway."
"Oh, you'll fall in love. I did," I said, giving Cecilia a squeeze.
"I hope not, because I know I'll end up falling for the most wrong person I can find," Garma told her. "I've got the common sense of a pork chop."
"Don't sell yourself short," I ordered him.
"I'm not going to let Dad fix me up with the first person who comes along, though," Garma said. "I mean, he should have realized you weren't going to be able to live with Ingrid. Not having you around gives her that much more space for her shoe collection." He snorted. "Ah, I shouldn't be so hard on the woman. Her crass consumerism keeps the Zeon economy afloat. Tell her to buy another Maison Genevieve designer original, will you? My squad needs a new guidon and the rest can go for an orphanage or something." He took another slug of wine.
"I dunno, Garma, you talk an awful lot about your roommate Char," Cecilia said with a grin.
"Use Occam's Razor. I see him every day and he's my battle buddy," Garma responded, but some pinkness had risen in his cheeks that had nothing to do with the fact that he was drinking.
He looked up at me for validation and just for a second, I thought I was looking at Saslo.
"Giren, don't squeeze me so hard!" were the next words out of his mouth.
I fell asleep on the couch with Little Stupid in the crook of my arm.
"Why haven't I heard from Garma's lawyer about the funeral plans?" Dad wanted to know the next day.
He was trying to assert himself. Normally we met in his office, but today he'd summoned me to the throne room where he occupied the great chair itself. He looked more and more like the proverbial sack of potatoes every day. I stood on the floor at the foot of the dais, leaning heavily on my cane. Being on my feet like this was making my leg hurt.
"There's no reason to do that," I told him. "I looked over Garma's plans for his funeral. We can use a few of them, since he did things like pick the horses to pull the guncarriage with his coffin on it. The rest is very sentimental, and not appropriate for a secular state funeral."
Dad peered at me through his glasses. "Secular state funeral?"
"Well yes. We have to make this public, Dad. The people will expect it."
There was a time when he would have stood up to me, literally. He would have risen to his full stature, not that it was ever anywhere near mine, and laid down the law. He would have told me I was wrong. He would have told me I wasn't going to get my way. He shot me a look through his red-rimmed eyes that hinted that this might happen. One part of me wanted him to.
That part of me was disappointed when he said, "I want to mourn Garma in peace."
I tightened the grip on my cane. "Garma did not just belong to us. Not since we became a royal family. As such, we can't let his death be in vain, which it would be if we kept it to ourselves. It's a matter of honour, and pride, and the family name."
He grimaced. "What's that supposed to mean, Giren?"
I sighed. He was such an idiot. "Are you ashamed of Garma? Why do you want to hide his death, as if he'd done something wrong?"
"I don't want to do that."
"Then agree with me on the public funeral!" I shouted.
"I just want Garma's death to be—"
The throne room doors opened abruptly. "Your Majesty, Your Highness. Prince Dozel and Princess Kishiria have arrived."
Dozel strode forward, his very long legs leaving Kishiria back at the rear of the chamber. "Dad! I hope you haven't been waiting too long."
A weak smile crossed my father's face. "Not at all. You two have arrived very early."
I glanced past him to Kishiria and gave her a discreet smile. She didn't return it. Her little vulpine face was a mask of sheer fury. "What a turn of events, Garma getting killed by the Federation's new mobile suit when he had his whole future ahead of him."
Dozel slapped a hand against that battered pile of scar and bone he called a face. "What a nightmare. I keep expecting Garma to walk through that door any moment, full of life."
"Well we aren't going to win any battles dwelling on the might-have-beens," I snapped, not sure why I suddenly felt like strangling him.
Dozel shook his head violently. "I'm not, but I was looking forward to him being a great general someday." He looked surreptitiously at the throne and the pathetic figure sitting there and added, "Someone I could take orders from."
Dad nodded. "Dozel speaks for all of us. That's why we need to have a quiet service where we can pray for Garma's soul, as befits our grief."
"Yes, Father," I grumbled at him, then went off in my own direction.
Cecilia had the support staff on the phones, contacting every flower grower in the Side. As soon as I entered the room where the staff was, she came to my side, gesturing to a man in an ill-fitting business suit. "Your Highness, this is Mr. Olson. He's the set designer recommended to me by the motion pictures union. He has some sketches he'd like to show you."
We retreated into my office where Cecilia served tea as we sat over a coffee table. "I know you want something dramatic and military," he said, handing me his sketchbook. "No matter what direction you take, I think having height involved is critical. You know, larger than life, implying your brother is above them, that sort of thing."
"Hm. That's good." I turned the pages in the sketchbook. Flags and Zeon crosses figured prominently in all of them. To an extent that was right and what I wanted, but I couldn't be too overt in what I was doing. I was rallying the troops, yes, but I didn't want people turning off their televisions and saying, "Was that a blatant war cry or what?"
I stopped at one. "Oh, don't worry about that one, sir, it's a discard."
I studied it for a moment. "What's wrong with it?"
"That 30-foot portrait of Prince Garma," he said, with that little half-giggle people put into their voices when they're embarrassed. "It's dreadfully over the top."
I continued to study the image. "I like it. We'll go with this one.'
"The crowd will want my brother. By God, we'll give him to them."
Liar, I told myself.
"There's going to be an empty casket," I continued. We have to establish his presence somehow."
"Yes, this is definitely the one. We'll build it on the rear of Zabi House, so that we can fill the Mall between this building and that one with troops. Thank you, Mr. Olson. This looks eminently possible. Cecilia? I'll need to be talking to the Minister of Finance about budgeting for this."
The phone on my desk beeped and Cecilia went to get it. It was our receptionist saying, "Lt. Irene? Her Royal Highness Princess Kishiria is here to see Prince Giren."
"I think we're finished," I said. "Send her in."
My little sister came in, her expression impossible to read beyond that she wasn't pleased. She sat down at the table with me, glanced over her shoulder at Cecilia and said, "You. Out."
"I'll thank you not to dismiss my staff as if they were your own to command," I told her, crossing my arms. Cecilia hadn't moved. She didn't like Kishiria very much and wasn't going to take orders from anyone but me anyway. I reached out and touched her hand. "I'll talk to my sister in private. See you later."
Once Cecilia was gone, I asked, "So what's on your mind, to bring you storming into my office like this?"
Kishiria poured herself a cup of tea. "About this funeral thing. I think you're more right than wrong. I mentioned that to Dad and Dozel and they are not pleased with me at the moment." She took a sip of her tea, then reached for a biscuit. "You were the one who masterminded this whole royal family thing. I've spent the past ten years trying to put some meaning into it, at least for myself. Dad, I think, still has the whole fairy-tale mindset going, and I don't think Dozel's ever accepted being royal at all."
"Where's this going, Kish? I have a lot of things to do."
"Where it's going is that once we took on these titles, we stopped belonging to ourselves and became public property. If Dad thinks he can just keep Garma's death private as if we were some family in Mahal who just lost their son who's a corporal in my forces, he's sadly mistaken. Have you seen what's going on just outside our gates?"
"On television, yes."
"It's a Woodstock of grief out there. The flowers and teddy bears are ten feet out onto the sidewalk. There are weeping teenaged girls as far as the eye can see. If we don't do a public funeral, there's going to be a riot. That's a very worked-up crowd out there, and I've already received three reports of would-be agents provocateurs, Feddie plants no doubt, who were trying to do just that. They've been arrested of course, but we have to be wise about this."
"And what does wisdom mean to you?"
"Keep it public. Let the people wail and gnash their teeth. Dad thinks Garma is ours, or more specifically, his. We can't let him make that mistake." She tapped the still uneaten biscuit against her saucer. "It'd be nice if we could. Have Garma to ourselves, I mean. But we can't, and that's just the way it is."
Abruptly she put the cup and saucer down and wrapped her arms around me. I immediately cringed back with a small cry of alarm. Neither of us normally goes for expressions of familial affection like this. I realized to my horror that she was crying softly and that she wanted me to do something about it. Cursing Garma momentarily for putting me into this mess, I held her loosely, not knowing what other action I should take.
"I keep thinking about Saslo," she sobbed. I shoved her away.
"I have work to do," I told her. "Big funeral…lots of details to take care of. You do something about those Feddie agents. You're the best one for the job."
For a second, I saw pain her eyes. My sister recovered well, though, and wiped at her face with a gloved hand, leaving smudges of makeup on the white fabric. "Yes. You're right of course. I have some suspicions about Garma's death, too."
"Sounds like you have your work cut out for you. Get back to me later."
"I'll do that." She stood and walked a little unsteadily to the door.
I didn't call Cecilia in immediately. My memory had been drawn backwards again to a phone call ten years ago.
"What's up, brother mine?"
I held a newspaper in one hand, focusing on the item I'd circled in red pen. "There's a display of contemporary critique of corporate power using the metaphor of 20th century Chinese propaganda posters. I thought we ought to check it out."
"How long is it showing for?"
I read the listing quickly, as quickly as I'd found it a moment ago. "Until the third of next month."
"Okay, we've got time, then. It sounds neat, John would probably like to see it, but I've already got plans."
I groaned inwardly. "Anything I could go to with you?"
"It's a rugby game at the Academy. Dozel's playing. I said I'd buy the drinks if he scored three goals. I didn't think you'd want to go, so I didn't mention it. I mean, you usually get pretty annoyed around Dozel."
That was true, and I knew I couldn't tell Saslo that in this case, I'd almost rather watch my boring lump of a brother play rugby than spend another hour with my even more horrible new bride. "I understand."
"I'll be home by about six if you want to come over. I'll tell John to expect you for supper."
"Sounds good. I'll see you then." I hung up and looked up at the ceiling of my new library, the one in the house Dad had bought for me on the occasion of my marriage to Princess Ingrid of Denmark. Ingrid was more than pretty, and our wedding had been very beautiful, very businesslike, and very good for the nation.
I'd stopped wearing my wedding band after a month.
Saslo didn't know how bad things were. He'd figure it out eventually, but I wasn't going to tell him and make him think I resented him.
Ingrid poked her blonde head into the room. "I'm going shopping and out to lunch."
"Of course you are."
She missed the sarcasm completely and shut the door behind her. I heard her shoes clicking on the marble in the foyer, then reached for a number of private members' bills from Parliament that Dad had asked me to give an opinion on.
Saslo would be back at six. It was 10:30 now. Seven and a half hours. I'd live. Somehow.
There was more to the memory, but I wouldn't entertain it. I would not let it in.
She appeared immediately. "Sir?"
"The units to be at the funeral. There are some obvious ones, such as the Royal Guard, and any of the ones bearing our names. See if we can get any of the Royal Cuauhtemocs here from Mexico; they were Garma's unit. With North America in a frenzy, I doubt if we can get all or even most of them, but see what their commander can spare. I also need to select a good photo of Garma to use for the backdrop, so get the file of his PR pictures. Oh, and seating arrangements. What am I forgetting?"
"I've already spoken to the funeral home about getting a coffin and shortlisted the pallbearers."
"Oh yes. I'd forgotten that completely. You are my sine qua non, Cecilia."
There was no one else in the office so she leaned over and kissed me. "You are my all and my everything, Giren. I'll get you that file."
Half an hour later, some household pages brought in three photo albums. They represented the best photos of Garma taken in the past six months and I hadn't seen many of them yet. Cecilia sat down beside me as I turned the pages. Garma smiling. Garma shaking hands. Garma embracing a wounded soldier in a field hospital. He looked sad or serious in many of them, and in the others he was grinning widely. None were what I was looking for.
I was starting to get frustrated when I flipped from a few shots of him on horseback to an 8x10 that caught me by the throat. It was a head and shoulders shot of Garma in 3/4 profile, looking demurely to his left. "That's it," I said to Cecilia.
She looped her arm through mine and leaned forward to examine it. "He really was very beautiful, wasn't he?"
I paused a moment before saying, "Yes. He certainly was." And he always will be, I thought to myself.
I knew Cecilia had always been a little attracted to Garma, but I had always been secure enough in
Dad wanted to eat dinner with Kishiria and me. It was a farce; he had scotch as his main course and I left in disgust after the salad.
I debated sleeping in the library again, but decided Cecilia deserved to have me in bed. It was late and we were both tired. After reading in bed for a while, we turned our respective bedside lamps off and lay down.
I wasn't just tired, I realized, I was exhausted. My pajamas felt good against my skin. The mattress cradled my body soothingly. I reached out for Cecilia's hand and enfolded it in my own.
I was choosing a bottle of wine to take to Saslo's house when the phone rang. It was Dad, and he was hysterical.
"Giren, there's been a bomb. I don't know why. Saslo and Dozel are at the trauma unit of First Munzo General. Hurry, please hurry."
"How is Saslo?"I asked, but my father had already hung up. I grabbed my coat and ran for my car.
They wouldn't let us go to Saslo right away. He'd been driving a convertible and started the car as Dozel approached it.. Parts of the exploding car had struck Dozel, and he was in serious but stable condition. Saslo hadn't been wearing his seatbelt and was thrown out of the car, which is why he was still alive.
From what the doctor was telling us though, that was anything but a mercy.
Then they let us see him. I wish they had not.
I woke up with my screams echoing the remembered ones in my head, the ones that had lasted nearly six hours until the universe had compassion and finally let my brother die.
"They killed the wrong Zabi," I sobbed into Cecilia's chest as soon as I'd calmed down enough to let her hold me. She fetched me some hot milk liberally laced with rum that lulled me back to sleep in her arms.
The next morning we both pretended that my outburst of the night before hadn't happened. I had breakfast and left for work as usual, driving my own car.
"Hello, what's this?" I asked as I neared the palace. I could see six of the palace guard in their green uniforms and helmets accompanying my brother's towering form. I parked my car in a spot that would have gotten any other citizen towed and got out.
Dozel was surveying the offerings left by Garma's worshippers. He would point and a guard would bring him an item, presumably so anything that could explode wouldn't go off in the prince's hands. I walked up to him.
"Morning," Dozel said to me.
"I'm going to have the stuffed animals rounded up, washed, and given out to children of the war dead," he told me.
"You cleared this with Dad?"
"He'll agree to it. It's what Garma would have done."
"True enough. I want to read some of these cards. Corporal? Pick up a few of these condolence cards at random. I want to see what they say."
A few were placed in my hands. I read out loud, "To Prince Garma. I'll love you always. Miranie. Dear Garma, I am sorry you had to die. You were always such a nice person and I will miss you. Love, Mariko. Dear Garma, I will always love you because you were so cute and nice and brave. There will never be anyone else like you. Love, Paprika." I looked up at Dozel. "Are all the teenaged females of Side 3 this lobotomized?" I tossed them onto the ground.
"Well you're a fountain of sympathy."
"Our lives were on public display, Dozel. Any one of these stupid bints could have gone online and read that he was a Zaku and Dopp pilot, and an accomplished one. He didn't rule North America half badly; he had those Mexicans eating out of his hand. Yes, he was certainly pleasant to be around but he was not so…" I picked up a bouquet of pink roses and threw them at the fence. "…saccharine."
"They're kids, Giren. Have some patience for 'em."
"Never. I wasn't like that, and neither was Saslo. Or Garma."
"I still wish you'd reconsider Dad's wishes for a private funeral."
"Unthinkable," I said, and left him. As I neared my car, Dozel ran up behind me.
"What's your big objection to letting Dad mourn quietly? Why do you have to be doing this? I've heard the price of flowers just went way up because there aren't any; a government contract's been buying them all."
I turned to face him. "You really are too stupid to understand, aren't you, Dozel? Garma got the intelligence and the looks; you got the genetic trash. Remarkable."
Dozel raised his fists and I saw that massive jaw of his tighten. He relaxed slightly again and said, "The only reason I'm not taking your head off your shoulders is because I want you to explain to me what it is I'm too stupid to understand."
"You don't understand that Garma's death will be for nothing unless we give the people what they want. What they want is a public funeral. All that junk by the fence proves it."
Dozel said nothing. "You should be more considerate of Dad, that's all."
"He's the one who set the precedent. Now please let me go. I have a funeral narration to write."
I got back into my car and started it, thinking of what would happen if it were rigged with a bomb. There had been a bomb thrown at me early this year and while we got the perpetrators immediately, I'd still come away limping. Falling victim to explosions would be one thing bonding me with my brothers forever, I suppose. At least Garma hadn't suffered when his Gau detonated around him.
No one had rallied around Saslo's funeral. True, Dad had his plans for all of us, his vision of what our lives needed to be, but it was Saslo they were going to affect most deeply. He'd been a willing participant in the formation of the kingdom from the very start, which was one of the many, many reasons I loved him. That and the fact that he and I were flesh of each others' flesh, and he was fun to drink with and brought me books, and talked common sense into me, and…
"I'm very sorry for your loss, Your Highness."
The first guest to walk into the parlour where we were holding the wake was the mayor of Zum City. My remaining siblings and my father were sitting in a row of armchairs in front of the closed casket. I couldn't stand sitting there as if I were waiting for the lid to rise, letting an undead Saslo loose, so I was standing to the side, determined to look as if I knew what I was doing with myself.
"Thank you, Mr. Mayor. Saslo's death was a great loss to us."
The line got the appropriate sympathetic reaction, so I left him to sign the guestbook and greeted the next guest.
A few moments later,
John appeared in the doorway. My father flagged me over and
whispered, "He is not to stay here."
"No, Daddy, you have to let John stay!" Garma exclaimed from his seat. The kid had always had good hearing.
I looked up. John, pale in a black suit, his eyes red from crying, made a gesture asking if he should stay or go. I raised a hand, signaling him to wait.
"Dad, John was Saslo's partner. Accept it. You are not keeping him away from this funeral."
"If you do, Daddy, I'm never speaking to you ever again," Kishiria warned, her voice full of the venom only a teenaged girl can produce.
"I'm with the others, Dad. John meant the world to Saslo. It'd be wrong to pretend he didn't exist," Dozel added.
My father sniffed. "All right. Have it your way."
Kishiria took Garma's hand and they went to the door to hug John and lead him to a chair. They sat on either side of him for the rest of the afternoon.
The funeral was the first time I truly realized that now my personal life and my job were one and the same, something I'd been so naïve as to think I could avoid when I devised the idea of Side 3 having a royal family. There weren't many dignitaries to greet, just officials from Side 6 and Luna mostly, since the Federation embargo made sure that no one from the other colonies would have the stones to show up.
They'd get theirs someday, I'd see to that. Nobody disrespects the Zabis without my say-so, and I would see them burn for it.
Don't misunderstand, there were a lot of visitors, but I was still struck by how many of them were there for personal reasons rather than business. Saslo had been popular, and no wonder. Still, there were many faces that should have been there that weren't. I decided to take the guest book home with me that night and go through the names carefully.
Without there being many off-Side guests or relatives who needed time to arrive, we were able to move on to the eulogy proper on the second day, with the religious funeral on which my father insisted to take place on the third day of the event. I skipped that, especially in light of the twaddle trotted out on day 2.
Dad and I started that day with a breakfast meeting. "How's the homicide investigation going?" I asked.
Dad shook his head. "The police are examining the bomb of course, and talking to anyone who was in the parking lot during the game. They're liking Federation agents for it. It'd make sense for them to want to kill off two of our royal family at a time, and they were probably hoping for you being in the car with Saslo."
I reached down into my briefcase. "I need to show you something." I took out the guestbook and placed it on the table.
"What are you doing with that? That was supposed to stay in the parlour."
"Never mind the etiquette. I've been reading the names. Look." I ran my finger down the list, pointing to the names that had the initials M.N.A., standing for Member of the National Assembly, after them. "Notice anything strange?"
"I'm not sure."
"Notice how few are Contolists, Dad. There's a few of course, but I'm betting they're all going to show up en masse at today's funeral. They're lying low, don't want to be out individually. The ones who did sign are all newcomers; they came in at the last election. What I'm thinking is that Deykun's old party is behind this, trying to weaken us or get rid of us so they can fill the void with Casval and Artesia. So you might like the Federation for this, Dad, but I'm looking at Jinba Ral as my suspect, personally."
My father cringed slightly. "I was hoping those old tensions would be over with by now. Deykun is dead. His children are obviously safe; we've never made any move to harm them. Why would they do this to us then?"
I took a swig of my tea. "You may have made it clear that Deykun's children were in no danger. Obviously Deykun's followers don't intend to extend the same courtesy to yours. What if it's me next?" I paused for emphasis before asking, "Or Garma?"
My father was struck hard by that question. Score one for me. "We must know for sure," he told me. "I know what you were doing for Zeon Deykun as his head of security when you were a member of his party. I don't want you doing that again without evidence. We must maintain rule of law."
"Of course, Father," I said, reaching into my briefcase again. "I wrote a eulogy for Saslo. I think it'll serve our purposes well. I start with his virtues of course, his role in the formation of both the current government as well as the royal family of Side 3. Further on, though, here. I make insinuations about how he's fallen through the efforts of cowardly men, people who have been in our midst all along but chose this underhanded way to tip their hand and gain an advantage. We'll have cameras on the crowd, so we can watch for reactions. I want to see how many signs of guilty conscience we have out there."
My father reviewed it and handed it back. "No, this isn't the time, Giren. I appreciate the thought, but this is to honour Saslo."
"I'd like to know what you mean by that," I snapped at him, "seeing as you didn't even want to let the most important person in his life attend. Doesn't it embarrass you to be so downright 20th century?"
"It was your idea to make us a royal family," my father reminded me again. "He agreed with your idea. There's more to it than the pomp and circumstance. There are duties, you should know that more than anyone."
"Yes, and Saslo's died for it. Surely even in your most medieval brain that must be enough penance for him not carrying out one task."
My father pointed to the eulogy I'd written. "We don't need that anyway. The Prime Minister will be reading one."
"Let him read this."
"No! We'll keep the murder investigation separate. I won't have this turned into a scene from some gangster movie."
He wouldn't be convinced, and he must have called the Prime Minister as soon as I left to warn him I might approach him because the Prime Minister made it clear that he was only to deliver the eulogy he'd been given by my father's staff. The eulogy was pap of course, and you would have thought Saslo died of some sudden illness in his bed if you hadn't seen what in the coffin.
I did get the Contolists back, of course, but it took six months and in the end, Jinba Ral and his household got away from me.
In the garage of the administrative wing of the palace, I opened up my cell phone and called up a number. "Kishiria? Any luck confirming your suspicions?"
"There's chatter," she told me enigmatically. "Don't worry, Giren, I'll keep everything well under control."
"Good morning, sir," Cecilia told me as I came into the office, pretending as she always did that she hadn't awakened beside me a few hours ago and that everyone in the office didn't know it. She picked up a comppad and followed me to my own desk as usual, giving me the day's schedule. I saw the view across the mall from my uncurtained windows and immediately tuned out her voice.
The work was being done. Across the mall I could see carpenters and electricians building a stage according to my specifications. The bare bones of the set was enough to fire my imagination into visions of what it would look like.
I could picture the photo of my brother blown up to the size of the mobile suit he'd piloted. Below, my family and I would sit, dwarfed by this icon of our youngest, but it's not as if Garma would ever outshine us—or rather me—again.
I'd never resented my kid brother's popularity and success because he'd never set himself up against me. I didn't think he would as long as I continued to give him the proper shepherding, which he'd been receptive to up till the night of his death. Even that bit of defiance had no doubt been meant to impress us rather than bring him glory for its own sake. Even in rebellion, he'd always been such an obedient boy.
It's possible that if he could still speak he'd tell me to go ahead and use his death for the good of the nation. I rather imagine that he'd raise a delicately arched eyebrow at what I consider to be the good of the nation, but he'd always trusted my judgment. Were he capable of forgiving me, he'd do it, I'm sure. He had that sense of noblesse oblige, and I think he had enough of my sense of subtlety that he'd understand how this would protect him from the blind patriots and the heifers. He'd just say I was being a little unkind.
Saslo had informed me I wasn't a nice guy. You're coldly polite to people and it goes downhill from there. Insipid word, "nice". I'm surprised at myself at how much it stung when he told me it didn't apply to me. Of course, part of that was because it came from Saslo.
Let me be not nice. Let me be thoroughly unkind, cruel even. I did what I had to do for the good of Zeon, and if what was good for Giren was good for Zeon, so be it. If all went according to my newly reformulated plans, history would remember me as the cold, hard pragmatist who had seen Side 3 rise from breakaway republic to empire. If it probed further, it'd find that two of my more selfish acts, the destruction of Princess Ingrid's life and the hijacking of my brother Garma's funeral had in fact been painful acts of affection towards my brothers. I sacrificed myself for Saslo before his death and I'd sacrifice myself for Garma now. They'd given their lives for Zeon, so it seemed only fair that I do my part.
I reasoned that about half the population would guess what I was up to. The others would just want to drink in the pathos. Ironic to think that the half who would hate me were the half who deserved to live.
Screw the stupid little heifers who liked to pretend they knew him. Screw the blind patriots who would receive my message in just the right ways to get them killed. I'd be glad to hear of their deaths. Screw the ones who wouldn't stop to realize that the funeral was devoid of anything reminiscent of Garma.
Because I wasn't going to give them Garma in any way. Those who deserved him would find him. Those who didn't would be happy enough with a picture and some words about his bravery. That's about as much depth as most people have, and that's the element I would play to. Side 3 is overpopulated by half. If I could use our family's tragedy to eliminate the lesser half, I'd do it.
The forces standing against me had taken another brother away. First it was the Contolists, and I'd made them pay. Now it was the Federation's turn. This time, Garma would be my ally in defeating his own killers. It would be much easier to unleash our armies with the image of their dead hero before them and my words in their mouths.