Critique Group – The Emperor’s New Brain

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The Emperor’s New Brain – by John

Zav paused outside the Galactic Emperor’s chamber, palm against its massive yellowed enamel door. With reverence, he caressed the surface, an uneven mosaic of bumpy trapezoidal bits, and was tempted to reminisce. He raised bushy eyebrows. Near the ceiling, the mosaic stopped short and the underlying golden door panel shone cold and unfinished. With a sigh, he pushed through.

“Ah, Our Royal Alchemist, at last! It does not do to keep Us waiting.” There was an edge to the Emperor’s voice, belied by his broad smile. His teeth sparkled from his round moon face, throwing flecks of color about the long, narrow chamber. They were more floating opal than enamel, but then, that would be his legacy.

“My humble apologies, Your Royal Upsidedness,” began Zav, watching for the usual curt wave of dismissal from the ivory throne. Receiving no such reprieve, he plunged into the full honorific. “Your Royal Upsidedness, Emperor Definatis Gargantua Slomo the Ninety-seventh, Bob, Brightness Beyond the Blackest Hole, Son of the Seven Thousand Star Systems, Rightful Heir from the Unapproachable Core to the Ends of the Spiral Arms, Light of Illusory Transience both Dominant and Sub-dominant, and Promulgator of Infinite Wisdom–”

“Cease!” Emperor Bob bounded from his throne and stuck his pickle of a nose in Zav’s face. An onslaught of foul breath nearly choked Zav, but he pretended not to recognize the smell of overripe marsupial fur wine. “We shall drink if We so choose! Besides, it doesn’t discolor.” The Emperor lost his balance and grabbed Zav’s cloak for support.

The Alchemist stood strong, despite his millenia. “Sit, my Liege. How may I serve you this day?”

Back upon the crimson cushions, the moon-faced monarch moaned. “We are so confused! Why does the galaxy make no sense?”

Zav patted him and made encouraging noises.

“The Lords of the Systems bring me no peace. All day long, they argue about words and meanings. They turn to Us for answers.”

“Perhaps I may be of assistance, Most Regulated One?”

“Yes, yes! You can. Lord Salvas of Triminar wants to know how to apply Truth in a post-Truth debate. His ring dwellers insist they are the rightful center, but Triminarians on the planet reject such ring-centricity. Is it all feelings, or do the facts matter?” When Zav hesitated, the Emperor dismissed the question with a wave. “No matter. We exploded Triminar. Problem solved.”

Zav spluttered, “Sure-sure-surely there are better solutions, Majesty.”

“Oh, if there are, then they do not fit Our brain. You must find me a new brain.” Zav had not heard such an outrageous demand since Emperor Jellybean, some fifty-three rulers ago, had requested peanut butter to be spread in the void of space, so that all citizens could walk from planet to planet. And yet, they all were like this, smug satisfaction beaming from their angelic faces.

Zav sighed. “It is a most unusual request, Sire. I must know more in order to produce the desired effect.”

“More?” His Royal Upsidedness kicked his legs up the throne back and laid on the seat of power, tongue lolling from his upside down lips. “You bwant to know bmore? The Delegates from Mother Earth West and Mother Earth East both claim the entire planet. Two Mothers, one baby planet. Since We descended from Ancient King Slomo, We knew the answer: Threaten to beam-split the planet in half and give to each equally. Do you know what they did?” Zav shook his head, dreading the answer. “They splintered into four more factions. Now I have to divide the planet six ways!”

“Please, sire, did you divide the Earth?”

“No, no. Our long-suffering Self shall exercise patience. But We are losing patience with the Cult of Self-Actualism. They wish to define cis-, trans- and exo-botanical categories in the Shatternut Squash Trade; it has thrown the Trade Routes into hyportation disarray. And the Normalists have a point that unmodified Shatternuts are the only true way to achieve transcendence, because the biological knockoffs don’t work anyway.”

“Pardon me, Sire, but if it is a matter of naming, then what is the harm in allowing more variation in the language?”

“It’s not just about what people call things. This impacts Taxation. The Royal Galactic Treasury!”

Zav tugged at his chin. “These, then, are matters of logic and diplomacy. My specialty is Alchemy.”

“Exactly. Alche-make Us a new brain that can reconcile these problems, and We shall rule forever!” He ran his tongue across his incisors and waggled a finger down the chamber. “Or at least until Our Teeth adorn yon door.”

“This may take some time, Upsidedness.”

“Tonight! You know how you always have a headache after your daily cloning. Which is another thing We do not understand: Why must We be made the old fashioned way?”

The Alchemist thought this a rhetorical question, but he recited the correct passage from The Book of Rationale, just to oblige. “As the Son of the Seven Thousand Star Systems, with DNA donated from each ruling family, you are beholden to them all. You are the amalgomation of all human life and the living representation of universal unity.”

The Emperor puffed out his cheeks and resembled a beet. “Our brain is saturated with blood, yet even this is insufficient. Go now, Our Royal Alchemist, and prepare Our New Brain. At once!”

The operation was successful. The Emperor awoke, alert and hopping with joy. The new Brain was as good at resolving diplomacy and identity conundrums as it was in applying Post-Truth to facts. No more worlds exploded and the galaxy grew healthier. Zav–or rather, each daily clone of Zav–was proud of his accomplishment, though History might not appreciate it.

For, though the Emperor received his new brain and indeed this caused the Galaxy to thrive, the Emperor’s New Brain only possessed one word: “Ribbit!”

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10 replies

  1. I enjoy your writing, John. There always seem to be Easter eggs, surreptitious connections between later dialogue and earlier narrative. For instance, the reference to the “uneven mosaic of bumpy trapezoidal bits” and “legacy” caught my attention briefly as a pretty good but not particularly remarkable descriptive of a feature in the scene. Until it was given significance by later narrative, which connection made me smile.

    There were a couple of things I noticed, which you may want to attend to:
    – Your use of the verb “belie.” It means “to show [something] to be false.” In your narrative, the Emperor’s smile shows his tone of voice to be false. I would have expected this to be the other way around; that is, his edginess should show his smile to be false.
    – Nevermind, I decided to omit this point.
    – “Amalgamation” is normally spelled like this: “amalgamation.” I would correct that unless you are purposely introducing a new spelling that will be explained or elaborated on later in the story.
    – It appears you have a misdirected pronoun in the last sentence of the paragraph that mentions Emperor Jellybean. Normally, pronouns point back to the last applicable noun, so “they” could be misconstrued to mean “all citizens.” IMO, “they all” should be replaced by “all the emperors.”

    One hopes your allegory will not prove prophetic, but one fears it very well may. The way things are going, we just might wind up with a leader with a brain of that caliber rather than a brain as nimble as yours.

  2. John, very amusing. I chuckled all the way through. Loved it.
    There were a few parts were I got lost and had to re-read until I understood.
    The first paragraph with the door confused me until I read on. Not always a good thing to confuse a reader from the start. They might stop reading.
    The way you introduced the cloning was a bit abrupt. Maybe tweak the ‘Tonight!’ paragraph. Took me a minute to realize that they both were cloned.
    Otherwise, I loved the tale. A cheeky poke at today’s easily offended society.

    • Thanks, Stephanie! I, too, am not satisfied with the initial door thing, so thanks for pointing that out.
      Unfortunately, I also miffed the cloning thing, since only Zav is cloned daily, and the Emperor is made “the old-fashioned way.” I need to make that clearer.

  3. Very clever flash fiction you’ve got here. Some of your descriptions are so vivid – “his pickle of a nose,” the way the king lounges upside-down on his throne. I laughed at the way he so offhandedly blew up Triminar. And I loved the veiled reference to King Solomon.

    It took me a whole to understand all the teeth references. I had to reread it to get everything in place. And the cloning aspect confused me – Zav is cloned daily but the king is cloned more slowly? I also thought some of the questions the king was trying to figure out were a little too long and confusing. I’d suggest trimming down the philosophical bits just a little as they get a bit confusing when the king is already bouncing all over the place, as it were.

    I also feel like the cloning could stand to be expanded a little bit as right now, I don’t really understand what it adds to the story – at least so far as Zav is concerned. For the king… it explains so much. 😉

    • Kat, thanks for noticing the imagery. I’ve been working on using “one specific detail” and maybe it worked. Yay!

      You’re right about the cloning. I wanted to comment on cloning as a technology, which is why it’s here. In a later draft, I did expound on the cloning a wee bit more and earlier on. So, you’ve confirmed my gut instinct. Thanks!

  4. John,

    This is a clever piece, loaded with sarcastic wit and biting commentary of modern culture. I enjoyed it.

    My only concern is that you tried to put too much content in the dialogue. It became somewhat overloaded and therefore hard to digest. The old saying “less is more” holds true in this case. I would stick to one or two lines of thought, such as the author did in the original Emperor’s New Clothes. That’s what made it so powerful–its simplicity made it bite harder and last for centuries.

    In any case, you have a good talent for this. Keep it up.

    Bryan Davis

    • I am grinning ear-to-ear reading this. Makes me feel like (a) I’ve improved and (b) maybe I’ve found the right writing niche (flash fiction).

      I hear you on the dialogue (you and Kat). I’ll work on making it more punchy. (It’s cool to think that maybe something written today could last for centuries. What a target to shoot for!)

  5. I agree with Kat in that I loved the way that the Emperor destroyed that planet, as if that were the only solution. I also agree that the idea that Zav and the King are both cloned. It seemed to have been thrust in there as an offhanded fact, like something you should probably know, so there it is. There was a lot of dialogue and it kind of seemed confusing at times and even though I have reread it, it still doesn’t make complete sense.
    I assume that the Emperor refers to himself as “Us” because he is an amalgamation of all of the Emperor’s before him. The comment about truth in a post-truth debate was a bit confusing. What does that mean? I assume that, by reading the next part, that it means that someone is arguing a point that has already been proven true. For example, he mentioned that the “ring dwellers” believed themselves to be the center of the…planet? But of course if they’re on the ring, then they are not, in fact, the center of the planet. But I guess I’m confused where they believe they are the center of. I think it’s the planet. As I said before, I love how the emperor just answers his own question by saying, “No matter. We exploded Triminar. Problem solved.” XD That was pretty funny. I also laughed at the peanut butter suggestion made by the previous ruler.
    It was interesting that you included those on Earth who kept splitting into factions when the Emperor threatened to split the planet for equality. Kind of mimics today when people keep splitting into more factions to try and get what they want, making it almost impossible to please them all.

    This paragraph kind of confused me as well:
    “But We are losing patience with the Cult of Self-Actualism. They wish to define cis-, trans- and exo-botanical categories in the Shatternut Squash Trade; it has thrown the Trade Routes into hyportation disarray. And the Normalists have a point that unmodified Shatternuts are the only true way to achieve transcendence, because the biological knockoffs don’t work anyway.”
    “Pardon me, Sire, but if it is a matter of naming, then what is the harm in allowing more variation in the language?”

    “It’s not just about what people call things. This impacts Taxation. The Royal Galactic Treasury!”

    – I know what self-actualism is, but how does that apply here? Self-actualism is a drive or need that is within everyone, so are they driven to define these categories?
    – What doe these categories mean?
    – What is hyportation disarray?
    – What are Shatternuts and biological knockoffs?
    – How does language fit into this?
    – I can only assume that creating more names, would create more people to tax, which is how it impacts taxation, correct?

    I agree with Kat in that it was slightly confusing about why Zav was cloned daily and the Emperor took longer, but I think I understand. Zav doesn’t change. However, the Emperor has his own traits, plus all the traits of the Emperors before him. As they said, he’s an amalgamation of all of them. They previously said that it was 53 rulers before him. That’s 53 people, plus the new one, that is to be made as a combination of them all. I can see why that wouldn’t take just one day.

    And since the Emperor’s new brain only has one word, “Ribbit”, I can only assume that Zav has been solving problems in the Emperor’s stead, which means that the world is running much smoother now. It’s a very clever story! I really liked it. I was just slightly confused at times, which may cause readers to stop reading. Otherwise, excellent job. It just goes to show that sometimes there is someone behind the scenes pulling the strings and to always be careful what you wish for. The Emperor, by wanting a new brain, made himself vulnerable to Zav, who in turn used this opportunity to take power. Therefore, the problems are now solved in a more reasonable manner. Very well done.

  6. Shelby, thanks for sharing so many thoughts. It’s amazing how a story can take on such a different meaning for someone else. While I didn’t intend to write Zav as a subversive power-grabber, I can totally see now how he could come across that way. (Who knows? Maybe that’s really who he is and I just didn’t know it!)

    Some of the technical points are left intentionally vague, kind of as a hook into whatever the reader brings to the story. But perhaps I could be clearer on a few of them:

    – “The Cult of Self-Actualization” … Cults make up names, and this seemed to fit. Especially since…
    – “Shatternuts are the only way to achieve true transcendence” … whatever “transcedence” means (I leave it intentionally vague)
    – “Shatternuts” … some made-up fruit/vegetable thing that is tightly controlled for regulatory/taxation purposes…
    – …which gets messed up by the introduction of “alternative” options. (make of that what you will)

    I wonder, with these technical bits defined a bit clearer, does the story change much for you?

    Also, “Post-truth” is apparently a thing in our day and age. I wanted to highlight how people can think whatever they want, regardless of objectivity. (You understand correctly that ring-dwellers certainly can’t be the center of a planet, since they’re in orbit around it. But, I guess it doesn’t matter after the planet explodes, does it?)

    BTW, I am impressed with your interpretation of the splitting factions. I didn’t have a clue what I was writing there, but you make me sound really smart! 🙂

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