is always a moment of confusion when you wake up from cryogenic
the first few seconds, it can be a struggle to remember your
name. When I was revived in front of a small party on Kadiatrax,
matters were a
little more complicated. I didn’t need to remember my name; I
just needed to
remember who it was I was trying to impersonate.
A group of figures were huddled together in
of Fond Memories,
not three metres away
from the cryogenic unit. At sight of me, they bowed solemnly. I swayed
tried to focus my attention on a nearby tree. The artificial gravity
helping matters. I hadn’t had time to fully acclimatize before I’d
chamber. All I could make out now was the bright blue horizon, falling
from me with indecent haste. I gripped the sides of the compartment and
to clear my mind.
of the figures had stepped forward. He was an ugly block
of concrete in elaborate robes of state. There was something oddly
familiar about him. His face was infested with warts and his two bony
hands clasped an
elaborate scroll. He gestured
me forward and suddenly my memory came crashing back. I had to stop
reaching out and throttling the odious little maggot. It was his fault
here at all.
For now, though, all that was required was an
the relevant spot. I took the quill and made a mark at the bottom of
parchment. The hooded figure bowed respectfully. He turned and held up
document for the other delegates to witness.
They fell to their knees and prostrated
The First Minister reluctantly followed suit.
That was more like it. A bit of respect from
snivelling little worm, at long last. It almost made
the whole thing
Defrosting the Divine
King of Drasidian IV was probably the stupidest
thing I ever did –
and believe me, I’ve done a lot of stupid things. I wish I could claim
it deliberately. Nobody would have blamed me for waking him up. The
God was supposed to be over ten thousand years old and officially he
everything that had ever happened on Drasidian IV. Unofficially, he had
degenerative brain disease and couldn’t even remember his own name.
Two low-grade technicians were looking after
supply for the casket as we made our way through hyperspace, on the way
I was keeping a careful watch on both of them. It was my neck on the
anything went wrong.
When a light started blinking on the console,
to panic. Back at the Royal
chamber had had innumerable back-up systems, but onboard ship things
rudimentary. The technicians assured me that everything was fine, but I
a few buttons randomly just to be on the safe side.
That was when the power shut down.
Sparks flared in every direction and before I knew
happening there was a sudden hiss and the lid of the casket sprang
looked on appalled as the emaciated form of the Divine King staggered
from the opening. For reasons of storage, the casket had been jammed at
oblique angle. The Ever Living God tripped and went flying across the
hold. The technicians rushed to assist him. Without the casket, the
only survive for a few hours. One of the techs helped him over to a
crate. I screamed at the idiot to leave the Divine King alone and start
the bloody cryo unit. He did as he was told, but by the time the two
technicians had rewired all the circuitry the Ever Living God had
I stared horrified at the lifeless body.
What was I to do now? Killing the Divine King
almost certainly a capital offence, even if it had been an accident. As
anyone discovered the truth, I was a dead man.
In the circumstances, there was only one
thing to do:
we loaded the corpse back into the casket and reactivated the machine.
Living God would be delivered as promised to the New Imperial
There was no reason
for anyone to suspect anything was amiss. The cryo unit would prevent
further deterioration of the body and a tragic airlock accident would
of the two technicians. With luck nobody would even notice the King was
I returned home in a buoyant mood. A shuttle
ferried the Divine King down to the surface of the planetoid. All being
it would be another fifty or sixty years before anyone needed to
Ever Living God. A new Regent had recently been installed, after all,
probably outlive most of the existing nobility, myself included.
There was certainly no reason to suppose the
fool would accidentally shoot himself with a double barrelled shotgun
occasion of his twenty first birthday.
I almost laughed when I heard the news.
It is a mystery to me even now how anybody
to import such a dangerous alien artefact to Drasidian IV. It was
appropriate gift for His Royal Highness. And how the young idiot
shoot himself with the thing unaided is a question only the Divine King
could have answered, had I not already compromised his eternal divinity.
The First Minister had the shotgun to hand
finally informed him of the unfortunate mishap on the way to Kadiatrax
The first barrel decapitated a statue to my
‘You imbecile!’ the First Minister screamed.
I ducked to the left as the second barrel
shattering the private parts of a marble statue just behind me.
‘I ask you to do one thing...’
The First Minister threw the shotgun to the
launched himself at my throat.
I could tell he was annoyed.
‘How can the Ever Living God confer the Right
Succession,’ he hissed, ‘when you’ve gone and defrosted the decrepit
‘It was an accident...’ I croaked, struggling
breathe. ‘It wasn’t my fault. And please have some respect for the
The First Minister released my throat. ‘I’m
everyone’s going to blame,’ he spat. ‘I’m the one who’s going to have
internal organs extracted one by one.’ The image was a pleasant one,
but I kept
my expression neutral. It was only fair the Minister shared some of the
After all, it had been his idea to ship the casket off planet in the
place. The previous Right of Succession had been a bloody affair;
Ever Living God was a political necessity. Luckily, as the artefact was
great historical and religious significance, the custodians of the Imperial Museum had been only too willing
it into their care.
Now – with our idiot Regent sporting a rather
hole in his head – the Minister was obliged to pay the Divine King a
‘You will go to Kadiatrax ahead of the main
declared. ‘The Ever Living God must be seen to give his blessing to the
‘I don’t care how you do it.
I don’t care how much it
costs. But I want to see the Divine King alive and well. Is that clear?’
image in the mirror was no longer my own. Most of my hair was gone, my
changed colour and the pigmentation of my skin had been darkened to a
orange. My face had been aged by forty years in less than forty
least I still had my own teeth.
‘The living image,’ Tharila breathed,
Tharila was the latest in a long line of assistants foisted upon me by
Minister. A pencil and paper would have been more use.
‘Couldn’t we give the animatronics another
muttered. It is not an easy thing to see yourself so disfigured. I have
prided myself on my good looks. The Ever Living God had been many
handsome wasn’t one of them.
Tharila shook her head. ‘I’ve already shoved
out of the airlock, my lord.’
I’d picked up a rotting corpse from the
morgue at the Royal Court
way out; some idiot of a gardener who had accidentally garrotted
himself with a
plasma-saw two days earlier. For thirty six hours I had tried to
corpse, but even with the best electronic implants he still jerked
about like a
Nobody would fall for that, even if we used
And as for the smell...
Radical plastic surgery was the only
Unfortunately there were only two of us onboard ship – the authorities
would not permit anyone else to arrive in advance of the main party –
and I was
the closest physical match. I did consider lopping a few bits off
as she was female and seven feet tall there wouldn’t have been much
the surgical software had been uploaded, I had gone under the knife and
had overseen the surgery.
Don’t tell me I never do anything for the
good of my
walls of the corridor seemed to fluctuate, as if the building itself
The security disk had allowed us access to the main complex. I
adjusting to the heavy gravity. From space, the planetoid of Kadiatrax
tiny, but to my surprise it had a fully breathable atmosphere. The open
were covered in greenery which made the gardens of the Royal Palace
at home look like an overgrown window box.
Once we’d cleared reception, a moving walkway
delivered us to the remote complex where our beloved Ever Living God
This section of the Imperial Museum
was devoted to semi-organic technology. There was no time to peruse the
exhibits, however, let alone engage them in conversation. The Immortal Casket
the pride of place at the end of the main concourse. How it qualified
I have no idea. There was certainly nothing alive in there, except
flesh-eating bacteria which had been cryogenically frozen along with
I chivvied the hopeless Tharila along the
She would have to be disposed of once all this was over. Another
We set up the trolley in front of the
aligned cryo unit. The Ever Living God could be glimpsed beneath the
crystallized cover. I inputted the access codes and the lid hissed
Together, we removed the body and placed it on the trolley
There was a chill unit waiting in our
quarters. We had
included it as part of our luggage consignment and it had been sent on
our rooms. We could store the Divine King there until after the
didn’t want bits of the Ever Living God dropping off while he was
‘What exactly do you think you are doing?’ a
voice hissed from the far end of the corridor. A tall reddish-brown
at the entrance to the facility, his heavy muscular frame obscuring
the smaller exhibits. I shivered involuntarily.
‘Just preparing the casket for the ceremony,’
Tharila stared open-mouthed at the powerfully
alien. She had never seen a Trilaxian before. A terrifying, wolf-like
creature strode purposefully forward.
‘We’ve received your government’s request to
ceremony out in the open air.’ His lips rolled back, revealing a set of
sharp fangs. ‘A little more notice would have been appreciated. But I
perhaps the Garden
of Fond Memories?
my assistants will be along shortly to help you move the casket.’ He
at the Ever Living God, laying flat on the metal trolley. ‘Is this man
‘Just – sleeping,’ I lied.
The Trilaxian glanced up but he didn’t
assertion. ‘You must be a relative,’ he observed, baring his teeth
what may have been a smile but probably wasn’t. ‘The resemblance is
‘Well. It is not my concern. The main party
Drasidian IV will be arriving in a little under four hours. I would be
if you would ensure this ceremony is completed as quickly as possible.’
‘Of course,’ I mumbled. ‘Thank you.’
The Trilaxian turned on his heels and left.
Tharila let out the breath she had been
‘Let’s get rid of the body,’
ceremony passed without incident. Nobody had questioned my identity
signed the formal decree installing the new Regent. After the
casket was wheeled back to the centre for semi-organic technology. Two
Trilaxians, ugly as sin, with huge teeth, sharp claws and malodorous
helped to move the ancient artefact back into position. Somehow, they
to avoid scratching the paintwork. Appearances – and lack of hygiene –
sometimes be deceptive.
The delegation from Drasidia were already
to the spaceport. The Immortal Casket would remain with the Imperial Museum
– complete with dead King – and everybody could go home and forget
for another fifty or sixty years.
The Minister was waiting to greet me as I
defrosted. There was a rare smile on his face. It distorted his
features in a
peculiarly unpleasant way. ‘I am leaving shortly,’ he informed me, as
casket hissed opened. This time, I remembered who he was. Nobody could
those warts twice in a row. ‘But first I had to congratulate you on the
authenticity of your performance.’
I grimaced. I could still feel the tightness
skin clinging to my scalp. The sooner I could reverse the aging process
restore my good looks, the happier I would be.
I stepped forward out of the unit.
It was then that I noticed my assistant
to one side. Like the Minister, she too was smirking. Not to worry. A
depressurized airlock would soon wipe that smile from her face.
‘It occurred to me,’ the First Minister
we might save ourselves an awful lot of trouble the next time we need
consult the Ever Living God, if there was already somebody in place,
My skin – which was already chilly – suddenly
The Minister raised an eyebrow. ‘Why bother
putting a corpse back in the cryo unit when we can
put a living being in there?’
Tharila leapt forward suddenly and before I
was happening she had propelled me backwards into the cryo chamber. The
the Immortal Casket slammed heavily shut.
Tharila grinned at me from the other side.
‘I’ve spoken to the authorities,’ the
stepping forward. ‘They still think you’re the Divine King. Probably
you if nobody finds out the truth. But they’re happy to defrost you
decade or so, so you can get out and stretch your legs.’ The First
entered the start-up code on the panel. I could just see his smiling
through the crystal. ‘I doubt I’ll live to see you again,’ he coughed,
‘I can’t say the fact upsets me.’
Jets of super cool gas started to fill the
‘You can’t...’ I choked
‘Oh yes I can.’ The man waved jovially
glass. ‘Give my regards to the next First Minister...’