Decisions, Decisions
By: James Rumpel

"Decisions, Decisions," thought Wes Thomas as he escaped the raucous atmosphere of Emma's Bar. The chill of the autumn wind slapped him across the face, advising him to wrap his jacket tightly around his body. The bar wasn't going to close for three more hours, but Wes had made a wise choice and decided to head home early. His friends had given him a hard time about his early departure. Wes didn't mind the good–natured ribbing; he deserved it. Still, he had a long drive to make tomorrow and he wanted to be at his best for the job interview. If things went well, he would be faced with another choice. Would he be able to leave the town he grew up in? Could he take a job in the city and leave all of his friends?

Next, Wes faced the dilemma of how he was going to get home. He was not drunk, but he had consumed a couple of beers and didn't want to risk being stopped by Officer Doug Randolph. His former classmate seemed to enjoy making Wes's life difficult. The two had been adversaries ever since the days when they used to always pick teams for recess activities.

Wes easily determined that driving home was not worth the risk. The walk wasn't too great of distance and the fresh air would be good for him. If he took the shortcut through Old Man Verhulst's farm, Wes would be home in twenty minutes. He waved in the direction of the city police car which was hidden behind a billboard, stuffed his hands deep into his pockets, and began the trek to his home.

#

Other than having to wiggle his way through a couple of barb wire fences, the route to his house was an easy hike. The hardest section of the journey was the short walk along an unlit cow–path through the woods. Wes found himself progressing very slowly. He took great care not to fall, focusing all of his attention on the uneven trail. Because he was looking down, hoping to avoid tripping over an uncovered root, he did not notice something approaching from above.

When Wes finally stepped out of the copse of trees into a harvested oat field, he was amazed by how brightly lit the area was. It did not take him long to locate the source of the illumination. Hovering twenty feet above his head was some sort of vehicle. His body was consumed by the brilliance of a spotlight which quickly focused directly upon him.

"Why is a helicopter out here and why would it be after me?" thought Wes. Those inquiries were quickly abandoned when he realized that whatever was floating above him was doing so in total silence. It was not a helicopter.

Making a quick pivot, he turned and tried to reenter the presumed safety of the darkened woods. He never made it. The light that encircled him suddenly changed to a greenish hue and Wes fell to the ground, unconscious.

#

Wes awoke in stages. First, he became aware that he was sitting in some sort of cold metal chair. Next, he slowly opened his eyes, fighting to adjust to the yellow light that filled whatever sort of chamber he occupied. When his eyes had adapted sufficiently, he realized that he was not alone. Two other figures stood before him. One was short: less than five feet in height. The silhouette of the other appeared to be a very tall and extremely thin man. With the realization that the creatures who shared his company were not human, Wes became instantly wide awake.

"Oh good, you are conscious," said the shorter of the two beings. Now that he was no longer fighting against the glare of the room, Wes could see that the creature, while lacking in height, was stocky and powerful looking. It wore a white tunic that covered most of its torso and massive legs. Its face reminded Wes of a cat with green narrow eyes and an undersized snout. Its body, at least all that Wes could see, was covered with a thin layer of grey fur.

Wes tried to scream, but he could not. He realized that, with the exception of his eye–lids, he was unable to move.

"Don't worry, Wes. The effects of the tranquilizer will wear off soon enough. We find it's much easier to carry on a conversation when our subject isn't insanely screaming or trying to escape."

"We mean you no harm," added the gangly creature. This being could have passed for a human except for its great height and pale blue–tinted skin. His face was almost skeletal in its thinness. The creature was clothed in a loose–fitting gown that covered its upper body and legs. Wes couldn't help but think that any clothing would be loose–fitting on this thin creature. Unlike its counterpart, this being did not appear to have any hair on its body.

"You see, we are here to award you an amazing position," the first alien announced.

"You have been selected to fill the next term as Galactic Emperor."

Wes' jaw wanted to drop, but could not. All he could do was stare with amazingly wide eyes.

The tale they told was so outrageous that Wes could not believe to believe it. His surroundings and companions, however, made a convincing argument for the honesty of their story. Apparently, every five chronoliters, a unit of time equivalent to approximately two Earth years, the Galactic Empire chose a new leader by pure random selection. Wes had been this cycle's winner. He was being offered the position of leader of one of the most powerful alliances in the universe.

Wes wanted to scream. He wanted to tell his captors that he did not want to be Emperor. He just wanted to go home. Still frozen by the tranquilizer, he could only listen as the aliens bombarded him with incomprehensible details.

A loud claxon sounded, interrupting the aliens.

"Oh, we are about to make the jump to light speed. We have to strap ourselves in. We will continue our conversation after we reach Gamma X."

#

Wes was held captive by the Galactic Empire for six months. Though even he had to admit, he was more of a guest than a captive. He had expected to be probed or eaten, but neither happened. His quarters were comfortable. Daily, he was treated to delightful meals. Sometimes he was served exotic dishes from strange worlds. Other times he ate traditional Earth food of the highest quality. The burgers the Empire supplied were better than any he had ever gotten at Emma's Bar.

The two aliens met with him each day and tried to convince him to accept the position as Emperor. Trap, the squat furry creature, and Bolock, the gangly blue–skinned being, were to be his chief advisors when he accepted the position. At no point did Wes ever feel threatened. Trap and Bolock showed him many extremely advanced planets and amazing locales. Sometimes they used video equipment to show what different Empire planets were like. On many occasions, Wes was taken to visit these amazing locals.

Early in his captivity, Wes looked for a means of escape. However, he soon realized that it would be impossible. He was trapped on a distant world with technology that he could not understand. It was foolish to think he could ever find his way home.

As time passed, Wes became more open to the possibility of taking the role he was being offered. Part of him believed he was developing a case of Stockholm Syndrome. In reality, he had to admit that his captors seemed genuine in their desire to have him become Emperor. They treated him with respect and kindness.

Finally, Wes admitted he would be willing to take the position if Trap and Bolock would clarify some issues of concern.

"First of all," he asked, "How could a powerful alliance of planets like the Empire choose its leader by random selection? It seems like a stupid way to pick a ruler."

Trap smiled. It had taken Wes quite a while to be able to recognize the meaning of the aliens' expressions. The universal translating device had been a great aid. "In all honesty, the Emperor is a figure–head. The planets are all fairly self–sufficient when it comes to ruling. Many have little or no interaction with the Empire or other planets."

Bolock continued the explanation. The two advisors had an irritating habit of alternating their discourses. "There are procedures to deal with controversies over trade and expansion. The Emperor's role is to present a united front, an example of unity among the planets."

Trap took his turn. "By randomly picking the recipient of the title, all the planets can feel that they are of equal value."

Wes could accept the idea of a figurehead ruler, though he still could not comprehend how he was selected to fill the position. "How is Earth even a member of the alliance? When did we join? Most of us don't even believe in life on other planets."

"About seventy of your years ago we made contact with your planet at a place called Roswell," answered Bolock. "The leaders at that time agreed to join the Empire as long as Earth was allowed to develop and advance at its own rate. It was a wise decision. Since that time, we have been watching and allowing your planet to progress."

"There are other planets in the Empire with the same circumstances," added Trap.

"So, if I accept, what will my actual duties be?" asked Wes.

"You will have to give a few speeches, which will be written for you. On rare occasions, you will have to attend events such as openings of factories or celebrations welcoming new planets to the alliance. It is all very simple and even a little boring."

"The possibility exists that you may be asked to help mediate disputes that cannot be settled by the usual avenues. If I recall correctly, the last such case was two Emperors ago." Trap paused and looked at Bolock, waiting for him to continue the dialogue.

"If any other planetary alliance in the universe wants to contact our Empire, they will likely do so by addressing you first. That also is very rare, there are only two other alliances that we are aware of."

Wes asked his final question. "When I am done with my term, do I get to go home?"

Both advisors answered in unison, "Most definitely."

"Ok, I'll do it."

#

After being sworn in as Emperor, Wes' life was not that different than it had been before he agreed to the position. He spent most of his time with Trap and Bolock waiting for something to do.

He attended a few ceremonies and got to decide what color should be used to designate a newly admitted planet on the Empire's flag. Being Emperor, seemed to be a simple job. One day, that changed.

Bolock and Trap burst into Wes' quarters and advised him to put on his most official clothing. They had supplied him with several outfits for different occasions. He was then told to report to the throne room. There was a matter of great importance to be addressed.

#

Once Wes was seated on the throne, flanked by Trap and Bolock, the massive doors of the chamber swung open and a battalion of armored aliens entered the chamber. Bolock and Trap simultaneously murmured, "Oh Oh."

Wes reacted to the stereo exclamation. "What do you mean, ‘Oh Oh'?"

A nervous Trap explained, "That is a force from Uleria. They are not part of the Empire."

"They are the enemy of the Empire," added Bolock.

The collection of twenty soldiers came to a ceremonial halt directly in front of the throne. One of the creatures stepped forward and gave a curt salute.

"I am General Crang of the Ulerian Federation," it announced. While not intimidating in size or muscle, Crang had an air that purveyed authority. The creature could have passed as a human except for its disturbing white eyes and unusually large, fang–filled mouth. It was dressed to intimidate. Thick, black armor covered its chest and abdomen. A large battle–ax was slung over its shoulder and it held a powerful firearm at its side. The rest of the battalion was similarly armed.

"Wh…what may I do for you?" asked Wes. He should have felt embarrassed by the fear in his voice but he was surprised to be able to speak at all.

"We have come to collect our tribute," was the reply.

Wes glanced over his shoulders at his two aides. "What is it talking about?" he whispered.

"Long ago, one of the Emperors made a deal with the Ulerians to avoid war." Wes didn't need a translator to tell that Bolock was extremely nervous. That anxiety did not diminish as the two assistants alternately relayed the tale.

"Every fifty or sixty chronoliters we have to give a planet to the Ulerians." "They strip the planet of its resources."

"They take the inhabitants and make them into slaves."

"Or eat them."

Bolock and Trap looked like they had more to say but they were not given the chance. Crang, once again, addressed the Emperor.

"As agreed upon we will supply you with a list of three planets and you must choose which will be our tribute."

This information disappointed Wes. He had been scheming to award the Ulerians some unpopulated or undesirable planet.

The General continued. "You must relinquish one of the three following worlds: Branon, Korus, or Earth. We will give you a short time to make your decision." The brigade turned as one and marched towards the exit.

Once the enemy force had left the chamber, Wes looked to his aides.

"What am I supposed to do?" he asked.

"You must decide which planet to give them," answered Bolock.

"You mean which planet to put to death, don't you?"

"I suppose you are right," was Trap's comment.

"Shouldn't there be a committee that makes this decision?"

"No, the Emperor must make this choice." Wes could easily read Bolock's expression. He was afraid, very afraid."

"Why didn't you tell me this earlier?"

"We had hoped your term would end before the Ulerians demanded tribute. We are sorry." Trap held his arms out and raised them slightly, simulating a human shrug.

Wes came to the inevitable conclusion that he had to do something. He asked. "What can you tell me about Branon and Korus? I already know about Earth."

Bolock took a deep breath before answering. "Branon is my home. Hundreds of family members and friends live there." Wes now understood why his aide was so agitated.

Trap spoke next. "Korus is the artistic and intellectual center of the Empire. There is a saying: ‘Everything of true worth comes from Korus'."

Wes tried to consider all of his options. "They picked planets that they knew we would never give up. They want war."

"That is quite obvious."

"Do we have a chance against them in war?" Wes' mind raced to try and find a way out of this that would not result in the destruction of a world.

After a pause, Trap once again shrugged. "We might win, but the cost would be staggering. Entire planets would be lost. Every planet in the Empire would suffer greatly."

Wes could feel the heat leaving his body. He shivered uncontrollably. There had to be a solution. How could he decide? How was he supposed to condemn an entire planet to death?

"If we gave them Earth, would there be time to evacuate before the Ulerians came?"

"Highly doubtful, Sir."

Wes expressed his concerns out loud. "Who am I to put an entire planet to death? Maybe I can negotiate a new deal. Do you think they would accept taking one–third of the population of each planet?"

Bolock and Trap stared at Wes. They knew that the Emperor did not expect them to answer. They allowed him to search his soul for an answer.

"I could offer myself to them. I'm Emperor. I would be a valuable prize." Wes tried to contain the tears that were filling his eyes to the point of overflow. "They might take money or wealth instead of a planet."

"As Emperor, is it my duty to turn over Earth? How can I do that to my family and friends? I can't. But is Earth more worthy of being saved than the other planets?"

Wes looked upward towards heaven, though as he did so he realized that from his current location heaven could be in any direction. He screamed. "What am I to do?"

#

Three aliens stood in the small clearing. On the ground, between them, was the body of an unconscious Earthman. Floating silently above them was a spaceship, about the size of a minivan.

Trap removed his neurological link and bent over to remove a similar device from the human. In the last twenty minutes of Earth time, the human had experienced nearly a year of simulated existence. The other aliens also removed their links.

"He did very well," said Bolock.

"Yes," replied Crang, "much better than some of the leaders we tested."

"Does this trial help with the decision?" asked Trap.

"I wish all of our trials had gone this well. If every Earth person had shown that kind of compassion and thoughtfulness, I'd instantly vote to admit Earth to the Alliance."

"Unfortunately, that isn't the case. I vote for further testing."

Trap nodded his head in agreement with Crang. "Let's decide to not decide. Maybe Earth will continue to evolve. Let's return to the ship before Wes wakes up. He won't remember anything so he would be in for quite a shock to find us standing over his body."

END

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