“Rare Justice”

Here’s a story that predates the entire Twinmaker experiment, set far in the future of the novels. Enjoy!

On a far-flung moonlet, a rare device flickered into life.

Hradek Zanshin, High Ethnarch of the Ataman Theocracy, stepped out of the reconstruction chamber and took a deep breath. To look at, he wasn’t much: shortish; dark hair cropped almost to skin; metallic gleams on several points of his body where bioassists had been hastily detached; an ill-defined air of menace born of centuries of getting what he wanted. He wore nothing but a purple shipsuit edged in black; his feet were bare and his hands empty.

The room in which he found himself was plain to the point of insult, but he didn’t mind. The delight of having hands left to rub together was luxury enough. For now, anyway.

Fools! They thought they could kill him. No, worse–they thought they could replace him. Well, he would show them. The puny uprising he had left behind couldn’t crush all loyalty from his subjects. Their memory would be strong. How could it not be? He had literally hard-wired it into many of them.

His successful return was guaranteed. All he to do was find out what, exactly, he would be returning to.

He reached out a hand and touched a contact point. In the second it took to connect to the historical data the moonlet had patiently stored, he had a chance to admire his cleverness.

Few civilisations in the galaxy had ever embraced the electronic transmission of matter, since only the very rich could afford to use it and only those individuals whose lives already contained a large amount of risk would take the chance of something going wrong.

Hradek Zanshin not only qualified on both counts, but he was also the only one he knew of to use d-mat as a means escape. By travelling at precisely lightspeed–frozen on a beam of energy, unaware–for several centuries, he had crossed undetected from one side of his empire to the other, where this solitary refuge had been built decades before the uprising. The same engineers that had designed the moonlet had constructed the elaborate relays that had, in perfectly-planned series, detected the imperial d-mat transmission and boosted it on to its next destination. Zanshin had had the engineers killed, every one of them, along with every person who had worked on the project and every accountant who might have noticed its funding pass through the court books. No-one, therefore, would know of his arrival, apart from the one or two members of his closest family whom he had judged worthy enough to escape with him, should the need take them too. After a century building the device and a further two centuries hoping not to require it, he was glad now that he had no reason to fear that his survival would be suspected.

Survival. That was the important thing. One didn’t live for a third of a millennium–and travel several centuries forward through time–without a clear realisation that everything else was meaningless.

What he saw when he activated his implants quite literally took his breath away. It wasn’t the historical data, but a woman’s face.

“Daughter!” The last person he had expected to survive the revolt was his precious Atera, child of his favourite concubine. She had been barely fifteen years old and frightened by the sound of shelling outside the palace the night he had escaped. Now her brown eyes were wooden and cold, as though she didn’t recognise him. Of course, he realised, she was much older. She would have matured, changed, hardened perhaps, depending on what role the revolution had left her. She was tough, like him.

“Hello, father,” she said.

“My child, my dearest child. You survived–you remembered the escape route–you waited for me!”

“Yes. I waited for you.”

“And what a welcome sight you are! Tell me of the uprising. Did it fail? How much of the court remains intact?”

“None, father.” Her face tightened. “I now rule the Theocracy. You will address me as ‘Ethnarch’ whenever you wish to speak.”

Her words left no doubt as to how much like him she had become. “Ah, my child–”

“Silence!” she snapped. “The uprising did not fail. I speak to you as your judge, not your daughter.”

He flinched as though struck. “What gibberish is this?”

“You have been tried for your crimes against our people,” she said. Her voice was haughty and had the empty ring of a recording. “Judgement has been meted out–judgement hardly ameliorated by your attempted escape. In your absence, there was no attempt to mount a defence.”

His eyes narrowed with the realisation of how he had been tricked. Uprising indeed! “This is blatant treachery!”

“No, father, it is justice. Your crime was murder, and you have been sentenced to execution.”

Rage boiled within him, but he didn’t waste it on platitudes. She was too like him; she wouldn’t even listen. She had had centuries to make up her mind and she wouldn’t change it now.

He ran instead for the d-mat chamber. Perhaps, if he was quick, he could activate the device and jump at random–he didn’t care where to, so long as the information comprising his body survived.

A band of force wrapped around his neck, stinging like acid, before he could cross the room. He was hauled into the air, choking, as the voice of his daughter droned on.

“For the life of Adraido Dwair, we find you wanting.”

“I have no idea who you’re talking about.”

“Adraido Dwair was a qualified biogeneticist who died in the torture fields of Helyard for speaking out against the massacre of the Kesh.”

“So?” he gasped, but she ignored him. He struggled against his bonds as futilely as he struggled to understand what was going on. He had no memory of this Adraido Dwair, this biogeneticist, this nobody. If she had the impertinence to insist that he should die, surely there was someone important whose death his would appease?

Or was that her intention: to impress upon him his insignificance at the end of his mortal life? No matter that he was Hradek Zanshin, supreme ruler of a thousand star systems and several trillion people; no matter that he had once entertained the notion that he might live forever. Here he was, dangling from a force-ring and about to be punished for a crime he couldn’t even remember.

The invisible noose around his neck tightened.

He called his daughter a name he had once thought too abusive even for his direst enemy, but she had turned away.

“At least,” he croaked, “have the decency to watch what your betrayal has wrought!”

“I would, father,” she said over her shoulder, “but I have become weary of the sight–and the same demand, over and over. If I’d only known how tiresome it would become, I would never have allowed the people’s will. Not in this case. Or at least I would’ve given someone else the disappointment of hearing you curse me to the last.”

He goggled at her as she turned back to face him. The people’s will? What in space was she talking about? No dictatrix worth her crown would ever consider such a base commodity!

Her eyes had lost some of their chill. Yes, she cared all right, and it sickened him–that one of his line could be so soft, yet so firm in her disregard for his life.

“I should have been … tougher on you,” he managed.

“It would only have made things worse. I might have chosen to punish you for my childhood as well as the millions you murdered, one by one. And who knows? I still might. While your pattern is fresh, there is no limit the number of times we can execute you.”

His pattern? It took him a second to realise what she meant: the information transmitted across space on that timeless beam of energy and now stored in the moonlet’s d-mat systems; the basic template from which his–this–physical body had been made. He had never before considered the possibility that it could be used again. The thought that it could be came like the thud of a falling axe.

He still didn’t know who the biogenetecist was, or the other millions of other faceless minions who had died under his rule–but he would pay for them individually, resurrected from the d-mat data and killed over and over, ad infinitum.

A death for every person he had killed. An eye for an eye. Far from helping him escape, d-mat had delivered him to retribution on an unprecedented scale.

Atera Zanshin, High Ethnarch of the Ataman Theocracy, was worse than he had ever been.

“Do you repent?” she asked, the tone of her voice bored.

He had just enough breath to answer, as he supposed he always did: “Never!” There was still hope that somehow, in some distant future, one of him would manage to evade her grisly justice and avenge his many deaths.

Indifferently, she nodded, and the noose closed tight. Again.


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