‘The Other View’

Through The Last Heir the story of Alexander unfolded, with many players taking stage, but there was the other view of things …



Ares Headquarters, Telnaria, 688


Entry 1

One of the bulwarks of a great nation is freedom of the media. Since we manifestly are a great nation, we also have a free media. There are many news outlets, all locked in a vicious struggle for dominance, but undoubtedly the greatest is Ares News. And undoubtedly the greatest reporter at Ares News is Tarin Nikvos.


I’ve been told I shouldn’t make such claims. As I am Tarin Nikvos, it comes off as rather immodest. I’m told this mainly by newsmen who want to be the greatest and are angry that I am. At any rate, it’s true.


Emperor Judah died just a few days ago; it’s a tragedy, he was so young. He leaves behind a pretty widow and a young son, only seven years old. That seven-year-old is the last hope of the Empire, the only heir to the throne. A governmental crisis is in the offing, or I’m no journalist.


A tragedy and a crisis: That’s the news in the Empire these days, and it’s good news for those of us in the media. Do you know what it’s like, having to tell people what’s happening when there is nothing in particular happening? We can’t always be running feature stories like “Economy Booms” or “Assembly Considering Litigation Reform”. The Assembly has been considering litigation reform for thirty years, and who wants to be bored with incessant reminders that we’re prospering? We’d run stories about poverty-stricken planets in the Lythian sector, or new laws in Sameeva, but nobody cares.


Although as people we regret the personal and national misfortune caused by the emperor’s death, as journalists we’re bordering giddy. Now we really can fill the hours – stories, opinions, analysis. And if we didn’t already have enough to talk about, the Council is fighting with the Assembly and the delegates are fighting with each other. We’re all just salivating for the gory details.


Being the best, I have succeeded in getting them first. Ever since the emperor died I’ve been lobbying my contacts on Premier Vonran’s staff for an interview. If anyone knows the high and low of what’s going on it’s him, and he’s certain to talk sooner or later. There are two kinds of politicians in Telnaria: politicians of the court and politicians of the public. Vonran is a politician of the public, and he’ll want to get to them through the media. The politicians want to use us for their agenda just as surely as we want to use them for ours.


A full eight days after the whole affair started, Vonran granted his first interview. To Tarin Nikvos, Ares News.


Entry 2

It is often the prerogative of the subject to make conditions for the interview, such as time and place. Vonran chose his office, noon sharp, which is traditionally the time to eat lunch.


I arrive promptly and am shown in. Premier Vonran rises to greet me, and after the requisite pleasantries we both sit down to his desk to do business. It takes me twenty seconds to set up my cam-droid, and it sits in the corner of the desk, recording everything that happens from here on in.


I take out my compad and glance over my prepared questions. Vonran sits across from me, cool composure from the hairs of his head to the soles of his well-crafted boots. He is the consummate politician, so smooth he doesn’t even come off as smooth. He is perfect at these interviews, with his quick mind, glib tongue, and unshakable self-possession, and it is one of my deepest yearnings to trip him up.


Start at the beginning. “The current situation,” I say, “began with Emperor Judah’s death. Do you have any words on that?”


He bores me with a kind and respectful statement on the late emperor, and I make a try for something more interesting. “All our hearts go out to the empress—and you, especially, must empathize with her.” It’s a delicate reference to his wife’s death a year before, and I watch to see how he takes it.


He pauses one heartbeat, then: “I do. I deeply sympathize with the Lady Mareah. As hard as this is for the nation, it is the emperor’s family that suffers most. His son, Alexander …”


And he slips away, shifting his remarks to the fatherless boy rather than the widow. When he is finished, I say, “Of course, this personal tragedy has national dimensions.”


“Yes,” he says. “The emperor is dead and there is no competent heir. The Empire is leaderless.”


I remember one of the arguments his opponents have been bandying around, and I am casual as I throw it into his face. “Technically that may be true, Premier. But isn’t everything going just fine without an emperor?”


“An unnavigated ship may drift safely for a time, but eventually it will crash.”


For one moment I am struck with admiration—and, yes, appreciation. A good line! I will put it in my story. “An unnavigated ship …”


“Our government,” the premier goes on, “is built around the emperorship. All the powers of the Council and the Assembly are balanced against it. The Empire needs an emperor.”


My antennae start twitching. “An emperor?”


He smiles at me indulgently. “An emperor—in function, even if not in fact.”


“Then by saying that you mean—”


“A regent.”


“I see.” I guess I can’t use the comment against him. Nuts. “Have you been in contact with the Council?”


“Some.”


“What do they think of the regency?”


“They have spoken little about it. The main concern they have pressed with us is that the Assembly wait to convene until all the delegates are present.”


“And you have waited.”


“I agreed with the recommendation.”


Whatever he’s been talking to the Chiefs about, I’m sure he knows that they hate the idea of a regency. “And Chief Kinlol? Where does he stand?”


“Get an interview and ask him yourself.”


Oh, that stings. I never can get the old bear to talk to me. That’ll cost Vonran in the article. I’ll say, When asked about Chief Kinlol’s position, the Premier bristled …


Vonran laughs. “He’s a hard one to your sort, isn’t he?”


I want to say he’s a hard one to every sort, but that might spoil what little chance I have of interviewing him. And then I scramble. “There are other ideas besides a regency. Do you know Colten Shevyn?”


“He has been in the Assembly since I was first elected.”


“And what do you think of him?”


“He is a delegate of high caliber, a leader in the Assembly.”


“So you have respect for him, his views.”


“Of course. I respect the viewpoints of others even when I disagree.”


Drat, he ambushed my ambush. “He has a proposal, Premier. He wants a commission to take on, where necessary, the functions of the emperor.”


“It’s ingenuous, but not as effective as a regent.”


“Correct me if I’m wrong, Premier, but I see three camps. One is for a regent. One is for nothing. One is for a commission. Do you think it would be accurate to call the commission the bridge option?”


“Perhaps. But there is such a thing as the worst of both worlds. A commission won’t usurp the throne—not because it would be more principled than a regent, but because it would be far more inept. A commission may be able to pick up the function of an emperor—and then become so deadlocked as to be worse than nothing. Our nation was not built to be run by a committee.”


Headline: Commission ‘Worst of Both Worlds’


Subtitle: Vonran Says Empire ‘Not Built to be Run by a Committee’


Byline: Tarin Nikvos, Telnaria


I clear my throat a little. “What do you say to those who fear a regent would usurp the throne?”


“I would ask them what they base their fears on.”


“Human nature,” I suggest.


He smiles. “There may be those who are so cynical they think every man would usurp the throne. I am not one of them.”


Did he just call Kinlol a cynic? Not exactly. “Do you think you will be able to convince the Assembly to follow you on this?”


“The Assembly hasn’t even convened, but from what I have seen to this point, I’m hopeful.”


That’s all very good, but just a little dull. I wonder if I can provoke him into saying something interesting. “Any words to your supporters—or opponents?”


“To those who agree with me about what should be done, I invite them to be my allies in achieving it. To those who disagree, I hope I can persuade them. If not, then here’s to the fight.”


A perfect politician’s answer from the perfect politician. My allotted time is up, and as I reach for the cam-droid he catches my gaze, something almost like a twinkle in his dark eyes. “It’s a good finish.”


“It’s a wrap,” I agree, shutting down my cam-droid. Now that the thing’s off, I ask, “Do you want to do a background interview?”


“No.”


Someone will do it for him. I’ll ask his staff, or his friends. Garin Dorjan, I’m coming a-knockin’. “Thank you, Premier. It’s been a pleasure. I look forward to our next interview.” Maybe then I’ll finally trip him up.


Entry 3

Elymas Vonran won two terms to the premiership. In both elections he beat Colten Shevyn. When Emperor Judah died they were preparing to square off again, and Vonran was favored to deal yet another defeat to Shevyn’s political ambitions.


Those two always seem to be colliding. For all anyone knows Shevyn invented the commission so he could fight with Vonran over that, too. What would happen if he and Vonran actually ended up agreeing, especially over something so vital as how to rule the Empire for the next decade? Telnaria would collapse.


Shevyn always comes so very close, and he tends to win on the small things. But whenever the question is really important, whenever the prize is most worth having, Vonran wins. Thus he has not only established a regency, he has established his regency. Some people admire the man’s intelligence, or his oratory, or his talent for leadership. I admire how he gets what he wants.


I landed an interview with Shevyn for the second day after Vonran’s appointment. I go eagerly; I hope the pain of Shevyn’s defeat is still fresh.


The interview is at Shevyn’s home—something Vonran never does. Shevyn has me brought into an atrium, a bright and easy place, with refreshments set on the side table between our chairs. I am presented first thing with a steaming cup of arabya, the finest made in Telnaria.


If Shevyn wants to bias me in his favor, he’s well on his way.


I set up my cam-droid—audio-only, as Shevyn stipulated. Then I begin. “So,” I say, “the great crisis has been resolved.”


“Some would say it has just begun.”


“Would you?”


“No. Unlike some, I don’t claim to know what will happen ten years from now.”


A little snippy, aren’t we, Delegate? I make a note of this jab at the anti-regency crowd and remark, “Of course, it would be better if we had elected a commission instead of a regent.”


“Of course. That’s why I suggested it.”


“Are you surprised that they turned you down?”


“Not really.” Suddenly he leans forward, raising both hands and holding them a few inches apart. “My idea was to create a ruling body to bridge the Assembly and Council and allow them to fill the void left by the emperor. It was bold; it was even demiurgic. I’m not surprised people were leery of it.”


I can’t remember what demiurgic means. It can’t be derogatory. “It must sting, losing,” I prod.


“Veterans of the game know not to take their losses personally.”


I don’t know how else you can take a loss. Shevyn goes on, “I’m disappointed that my colleagues rejected my proposal, but I understand they were searching for the right solution. I bear no grudges.”


No, he doesn’t seem angry. In fact, he sounds very understanding. This is, of course, good press, making him look magnanimous to public and colleagues alike. Politicians, they make me crazy. “And Elymas Vonran won.”


“I have always found him to be a formidable opponent—and I am sure I have acquitted myself to him as formidable in my own right.”


“What do you think of the regency?”


“It may turn out all right.”


“So you share the worries of the Chiefs.”


“I sympathize with them.”


“Do you doubt Vonran, then?”


“I doubt the vesting of great power in new institutions, especially impermanent ones. There tend to be complications.”


The sad thing is, that’s about the most interesting quotation he’s given me. “Did Vonran’s election as regent surprise you?”


“No.”


“Allow me to be cynical, Delegate. The premier advocated the regency; the premier became the regent. Can we believe he was pure of heart in all this?”


“He’s a politician, as I am. And I can tell you: Politicians are rarely pure of heart in anything. I believe he was sincere.”


“In what?”


“In his arguments.”


“That’s not saying much. If I wanted someone to give me one hundred thousand gold script, I’d be sincere in my arguments for giving it away, too.”


He laughs. “What do you expect me to say? That I’ve looked into his soul and seen the purity of his motives?”


He is not going to attack Vonran, but he has no interest in defending him, either. “What sort of regent do you think Vonran will be?”


“I’m sure he will be a competent one.”


I almost ask if he thinks Vonran will be too competent, but I’m sure he will just dance around that question, too. So I change track. “Let’s talk about your career for a while. I hear you’re in the running for the premiership.”


“I am. The election is less than a month away. I feel confident of my victory.”


He should, now that Vonran is gone. I smile brightly at him as I think this, and I ask, “How many candidates are there, besides you?”


“Three. Garin Dorjan and I are the primary candidates.”


Garin Dorjan is a leader in the Assembly, most prominent for his association with Vonran. He is not one of the regent’s innumerable allies, but something that is, for Vonran, much rarer—a friend. I don’t think it will carry him to victory. “Why should your colleagues vote for you over Dorjan?”


“My political skills are not inconsiderable. I will be adept at governing the Assembly, and I will do so with impartiality to all the delegates. They know that I have always had a listening ear for all of them—those just starting the climb no less than those who have reached the top.”


Yes, and all this charity has wonderfully increased his influence in the Assembly. “I’ve heard of how you take new delegates underneath your wing. They say Nemin Ziphernan is a most hopeful protege.”


“Nemin Ziphernan was recently appointed to the Tremain delegation. I have mentored him as he finds his place in the Assembly. As leader of our delegation, it is my duty to him and to Tremain.”


“Yes,” I say, then clear my throat so that he will not take too much notice of how dry my tone was. “Let’s assume you win the premiership. What do you do?”


“The Assembly must undertake reforms in two areas. The first is inter-provincial trade. The current Articles were drafted sixty years ago. They are far out of date with our present realities.”


Oh, that’s good. The Articles of Inter-provincial Trade do call out for reform, and every province has a huge monetary stake in how the reformation takes shape. It promises to be one vicious fight, and I hope they get cracking. “And what’s the other area, Delegate?”


“Litigation.”


He’s got to be pulling my leg. That is so dull, and so not going to happen.


“I know,” he says, “the issue is dull to many people, and they think the Assembly will never act. But it deeply affects our court system, and how our citizens obtain justice. The Assembly has been talking for a long time. I think I can finally bring them to action.”


He is going to win, and I am going to have to write stories about litigation. Thankfully, I’m big enough to have two researchers working for me. “As Premier of the Assembly, one of your most important relationships will be with Regent Vonran. Do you think you will be able to handle that effectively? There is no question that Garin Dorjan could.”


He gives me a look for that—a bit too masked for me to tell exactly what he is thinking, but I know I haven’t just reached new heights in his esteem. “Elymas Vonran and I have been working together for a long time. I am sure we will be able to continue in our new positions.”


“Do you think your clashes will continue?”


“I think we will continue to have differences of opinion and resolve them as we have.”


Vonran wins. I don’t say this; I may be bold but I’m not stupid. “We are nearly out of time. Any words to Elymas Vonran as he takes the regency?”


Shevyn smiles, showing teeth. “Good luck.”


Well, that was just barely “words”. “Final question, Delegate. Any words to the Empire as we embark on a new era?”


“I hope the Assembly chose rightly for you.”


The Assembly’s choice was not his choice, nor was he ever Vonran’s advocate. “And when will we know if the Assembly has chosen rightly?”


He quirks an eyebrow at me, bringing back to mind my promise about the final question. I offer, “Final follow-up, Delegate.”


He accepts that with a nod and a twisting of his lips. “We will know in ten years.”


I look at him, reflecting. “I’m a newsman, Delegate,” I tell him. “I can’t do much with that.”


He shrugs—obviously, it’s no problem of his. “We may run ourselves aground with the regency,” he says. “But we may not. I have always known Vonran to be an honorable man, and nothing is more to his credit than how he cares for his family.”


My hand freezes halfway to the cam-droid; I recover from my surprise in a moment, but I remain confused as I collect my droid. He sounds sincere—and I am better than most at detecting undertones of dishonesty, given how I spend most of my time around reporters and politicians. But I am still conflicted as to whether he was being kind to Vonran, or earning points by appearing to be kind to Vonran.


After all, as the good delegate himself said, politicians are rarely pure of heart in anything.

 

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