Ivan, Crown Emperor of all Delusia, scratched nervously at the arm of his ermine throne. His petulance had risen to such a degree that he was on the very cusp of calling upon his Royal Foot Stamper to make the point for him. He could feel the hair prickling on the back of his neck. Perspiration began to collect in the folds of skin under his once-muscled chest. The girdle made him look so much better, but my word it was warm. He had tasked the whole might of his entire scientific community on finding a solution, but all they had come up with was ‘cutting holes in it’. He felt like he was wearing a peep-hole bra. When he took his shirt off in front of his Dresser, she had laughed. Once. Replacing a Royal Dresser was such a fuss. He could not believe how much he had to pay the Impreial Dresser Finder to identify the right replacement, nor why they would even want their own Caribbean island in the first place. Still, the job was done and the new Dresser was perfect. She never smirked; she never cupped his sagging man-breasts and whispered ‘Phwoar!’; she never questioned his choices and she always found ways to fit a new row of medals onto his jackets, to co-ordinate a new band of ribbons. She had sewn epaulettes onto everything he owned.
He cast his mind back to the days of his physical prime – in his late fifties. The days of bare-back horse riding, black belt karate battles and river swimming were all behind him now. His greatest servant was Adobe Photoshop. Obviously he had found new and discreet ways of ensuring the respect of his people. They were called Gulags. He actively encouraged free speech and dissention – without them his security forces would have had too much time on their hands. There are only so many teenagers you can club before boredom starts to kick in. Shoot enough people and it starts to lose some of its appeal. They needed a new challenge.
Like all mortal souls – it was proving very difficult, even for him, to change sufficient rules to evade Death itself, but he was working on it – he lived with doubt: could any one person be right about everything? Well, only one person could, obviously, and his burden was that it was him. Being right all the time isn’t easy, but dealing with all those who could not see that he was… well, that was a doddle: just make them realise how wrong they had ever been to doubt it.
The main problem about being the absolute ruler of anywhere is that you always want to be the absolute ruler of somewhere else as well: somewhere bigger; somewhere richer; somewhere the people know instinctively how to obey. Successfully smack the arse of somebody outside your own kingdom and the respect of your own people will grow and, after all, respect is your absolute right. Those who do not respect the Emperor do not respect life. Well, certainly not their own.
Is absolute power wrong? Well, Ivan had never met anyone who was prepared to say so. He had also never met anyone prepared to say ‘No’. He no longer had a physique that inspired obeisance, but he was surrounded by many, many people who did. Nobody would believe now that he could climb Everest bare-chested, without the need for oxygen – if he was honest, he feared that half an hour out in the cold without his vest could have severe consequences for his nipples. Three times now the state surgeon had honed and tightened his re-muscled chest for him and three times it had fallen straight back to where it was. (So that’s three times he had to replace the state surgeon.) God-alone-knows where his nipples might be now were it not for the surgeon’s knife. Maybe stitched to his knees. Not even the most enfeebled of his karate opponents could any longer fall convincingly at his chop. His eyes had been lazered, his ears aided, his prostate removed and given a stern talking to. He could not deny that his body was beginning to fail – almost as if he really was mortal – but at least his brain remained razor-sharp. He could still beat anyone at chess simply by warning them of the consequences of an Imperial loss. He could still complete the crossword in record time, in the certain knowledge that any questions over the veracity of any of his answers could easily be countered by having the compilers ears nailed to the ceiling. He could still remember his own name, address and age, providing somebody wrote it down for him in large letters on a piece of paper. Those who claimed that he was not as sharp as he had once been need only ask those around him. He was as sharp as a… what are those sharp things? If ever he needed to justify his actions he could easily demonstrate that they were simply a defensive reply to those who wished him harm. There was absolutely nothing to gain by allowing people to think otherwise. He had checked with the goblins and he most certainly was not delusional.
The Crown Emperor of all Delusia scratched nervously at the arms of his ermine throne. He felt boxed in. He was alone and afraid. Paranoia had led him to exclude all of his closest confidantes whose repeated assurances of his infallibility had helped him to be certain that there was really no point in worrying about whether people might disobey him. Why would they? He tried to think his way out of his current situation; he tried to consider what to do next and eventually the solution came to him. He did not need to consult anybody else on the way ahead, because everyone that mattered to him had always assured him that that was so.
Ivan’s eyes flicked around the room even as he felt the very last vestiges of rationality gurgle down the pan. Now, where had he put that big red button?