“Some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.” –Alfred Pennyworth, “The Dark Knight” (2008)
January 29, 2017,
17:29 local time,
Imperial Study, Imperial Residence,
Sudbury, Ontarian Empire
“Mr. Castro,” said Ontarian Emperor Paul Ratzinger, standing and staring pensively out of his glass wall as Juan Castro entered the room. “I’m so glad to see you here.”
“I’m glad to be here too,” said Castro, beaming a wide smile as Ratzinger’s aides closed the large steel doors behind him.
Castro walked forward, slowly and carefully, taking in Ratzinger’s ornate and expansive quarters. As a muscular man who enjoyed the high life, there was very little Castro ever came across that actually intimidated him, but for the first time in a long time, Castro was struck with awe. It wasn’t because Ratzinger’s study was a unique style of ostentation- to Castro, it was actually quite tame- but because of the gravity of who Ratzinger was.
Mostly in a bid to stifle opposition and other threats to the government, Ontarian officials- right down to the lowest members of the Ontarian court- were officially nameless, their identities only known by the Emperor and the Imperial Guard. Very rarely did anyone speak in public, almost always communicating via press releases or Internet postings, with extra care taken to conceal the Emperor’s identity.
Not even Castro, one of the most well-connected men in the world, had ever met the Emperor or heard his voice, so Castro knew today was of special significance. What, he did not know.
Still, Castro did his best to hide his nerves, looking on calmly and keeping his hands behind his back. The Emperor paid him no heed, continuing to look outside of his tinted glass wall and stare, pensively.
“Have a seat,” said Ratzinger. “I didn’t bring it out for show.” The Emperor ordered an aide to get Castro a bottle of wine as Castro, who this time couldn’t hide his shock, took the seat in front of Ratzinger’s desk.
“Are you going to join me?” asked Castro. “I don’t like drinking alone.” He then flashed another smile in a feeble attempt to break the tension but the Emperor continued his pensive stare, unmoved.
A few more minutes uneventfully, upon which Castro decided to pour himself some wine. A few more uneventful minutes later and Castro started to drink from his glass.
“With all due respect, Your Highness,” said Castro, confused at what was happening. “I’m pretty sure you didn’t invite me to your desk just to watch you stare out of the window.”
The Emperor continued to stare before letting out a sigh. He was a bald man, physically fit in his old age, though his skin showed the signs of all the cosmetic surgeries he had to endure to wipe away the many wrinkles that formed on his face. He did his best to fight Father Time, even though he knew that it would ultimately be a losing battle.
“I understand Juan,” said Ratzinger, whose residence overlooked the serene waters of Lake Wanapitei, waters that calmed the Emperor. “It just takes me a while to collect my thoughts.”
“Collect away,” said Castro, beginning to get impatient. Ratzinger then sighed.
“You know I don’t have much time left,” said Ratzinger, turning around and looking right at Castro, his face still expressionless. “The disease that afflicts me has taken a hold of me in ways that I’m not sure I can overcome.”
“Oh,” said Castro, spooked by Ratzinger’s candid but emotionless display. Castro then understood the gravity of Ratzinger’s words, and did little to hide his concerns for the Emperor. “What kind of disease is it? I’m sure there’s a doctor somewhere that can help you…I know a few guys myself…I can give you their numb-”
“That’s all right,” said Ratzinger, brusquely but coolly interjecting. “I admire your empathy, but it is useless for the wider problem.”
“What would that be?” said Castro, intrigued by the Emperor’s sudden, if minor, display of weakness.
The Emperor sat in his chair, a big leather seat with a tall backside that made the chair look even more imposing. He then pulled out a vial himself and began to drink from it.
“I didn’t want to bring it up,” said Ratzinger, “because I know it was such a painful loss.”
“Painful?” said Castro. “Haylie Modine rigged that election against me…no way someone with 24% of the vote wins the Electoral College. No way.”
“It’s nice to know you get past things very easily,” said Ratzinger wryly.
“So you came here to rub it in my face, is that this is all about?” said Castro, not hiding his anger.
The Emperor’s aides all reached for their sidearm pistols before the Emperor motioned them to stop.
“No,” said Ratzinger. “That was never my intention. Haylie worries me too…but, strange as it may be, she won the Electoral College fair and square, even though her party tried to manipulate the process. The good news is that your American party prevents either the Unionists or the Federalists from having a majority in Congress, so whatever ideology she wishes to push, it’ll have significant difficulties.”
“Thanks,” said Castro, off put by Ratzinger’s remarks. “I guess?”
“My real concern is that this continent is at a crossroads,” said the Emperor. “We both know that no matter how much powers Congress claims to have it is really powerless and toothless…we, the states, have the real power, and that was no more evident than what happened this year. Roman influence is waning and Virtue tried to capitalize on it but failed, and failed miserably. Anatu in Assyria showed what the power of the people can do, and that the tide may just be turning against the superpowers.”
“So the time to strike is now,” said Castro, liking what he is hearing. “So where do I fit in?”
The Emperor took a liking to Castro’s eagerness and smiled.
“I want you to become the Chancellor of Ontario,” said Ratzinger. “I will cede decision-making authority to you, so that I can live my final days in peace and not have to worry about the stresses of having to run this Empire. Of course, I will retain reserve powers and will have the ability to veto any legislation I don’t like…but I will promise to you right now that I won’t interfere much, if at all…truth is, Juan, I need to retire, and you are the perfect person to lead Ontario while I do that.”
Castro leaned back, his eyes wide and his mouth agape, caught off guard by the Emperor’s words.
“I’d have to hide my name, though,” said Castro.
“No,” said Ratzinger. “You wouldn’t have to…I want you to be visible…for Ontario to become a world power it needs to start becoming ‘accessible’…of course, since you’re really just ruling in my name you can just claim you’re the messenger and no one will know better.”
“What about your family?” asked Castro. “Wouldn’t they be better in succession?”
“You’d think,” said Ratzinger. “I have a son…Carl. My original plan was to give the Empire to him but he…” Ratzinger leaned back and let out a sigh. “His youth is getting in the way…he’s too interested in the vices and pleasuring himself that I can’t convince him to take the reins.”
“Plus a guy like that,” said Castro, “you can never be sure will be responsible enough to be an effective governor.”
“You understand,” said Ratzinger with a smirk.
“Yeah,” said Castro. “I was once that guy.”
“Which is why I hope one day you can reach out to him,” said Ratzinger. “He loved your show, Modern Man…if anyone could reach him, it’s you.”
“Where is he?” said Castro.
“That’s the million dollar question,” said Ratzinger. “We’ve only spoken on the phone within the past few years, and he’s always on a burner. I haven’t spoken to him in person in years.”
“That’s odd,” said Castro, “and he’s your son.”
The Emperor let out another sigh.
“Things are difficult to explain,” said Ratzinger. “Carl and I disagree on a lot of things…we haven’t always had the greatest of relationships…but I know that deep down inside, he’d like to repair things. He’s just in that phase, where he wants to ‘find himself’, so it makes sense to me that he rejects his family. Plus I know that I can’t make him want something, even though I know he needs it…he has to want it himself.”
Castro cupped his chin and rubbed it.
“Okay,” said Castro, “and what is it that you think he needs?”
“Power,” said the Emperor succinctly. “He’s an anti-social guy, stuck on the idea that if he causes enough of a ruckus in this world that the people will stand up and notice him. Which they will…but there’s only so much mayhem and destruction you can wrought before the people start fighting back. He needs to know that if the people really want to be beholden of him- and stay beholden to him- he has to gain control over them.”
“Where do I fit in?” said Castro, now intrigued by the Emperor’s words.
“If he sees you, the former playboy in power,” said Ratzinger, “it’ll show him that he still has heights he still needs to achieve.”
“All right,” said Castro with a smile. “I’ll do it. I’ll be your Chancellor.”
“Thank you,” said the Emperor with a very satisfied smile. “Carl is smart enough to rule the world one day…he just needs to take that next step.”