by Fred Warren -
“What were they thinking?”
John swirled his vodka, sending the ice cubes tinkling softly inside the glass, as he gazed at Eclectia. It was a putrescent tumor of a world, spattered in ochre and rusty orange. Even the ocean was a murky green-gray, mostly shrouded in clouds of volcanic ash. It looked more like a drainage pond than a living sea.
“The Founders. Whatever possessed them to plant a colony here? It’s the most unwelcoming place imaginable.”
John’s pale, expressionless valet methodically laid three tunics on the bed for his master’s consideration. “It is the only habitable planet within several hundred light years,” he said, without looking up from his task.
John chuckled and leaned against the window. Scooping out most of the domestic servants’ gray matter and replacing it with something more…practical…did wonders for their efficiency, but little for their conversational skills. “It was a rhetorical question. Still, I would have risked traveling onward. After taking one look at this blighted rock, I would have put everyone back into hypersleep and set sail for the next available star.”
“That would have added nearly five hundred years to the voyage. Most of the colonists would not have survived.”
He stabbed a finger at Eclectia. “You call that living? Raking globs of metal from volcanic fissures? Chasing meat-beetles across the desert until your lungs ossify from breathing ash?”
The valet straightened the third tunic, inspected his work for a moment, and nodded. “There are the undersea cities.”
“Even better. Life in an aquarium, praying the next earthquake doesn’t shatter your little goldfish bowl. No, this isn’t a colony. It’s a joke. A monumental, insane, moronic joke bequeathed to us by an ancient troupe of comedians who couldn’t comprehend how pathetically un-funny it was.”
“Will you be wearing the black tunic this evening, sir?”
John walked over to the bed, lifted a sleeve on one garment, brushed the lapel on another with his fingertips, and sighed. “No, the blue tonight, I think...with the diamond studs. Something to put me in a festive mood. It’s supposed to be a party, after all.”
He returned his attention to the window, and the planet beyond. He sipped his drink. There was nothing but to make the best of it, he supposed. The Founders hadn’t left them any other option. Things could be worse. John Milton thought ruefully of his namesake, who in this time and place might have chosen his words differently.
Better to rule from heaven than serve in hell.