The destruction is just about instantaneous. Thirty minutes after sending out the notification, Ekon sits at the controls of a deconstruction machine digging away the ugly mounds at the highest point of the High District of Grot. The machine’s primary operator sits in the passenger side. He yells over the clatter of crushing mounds and screaming people, telling Ekon to watch out for civilians. Ekon ignores him.
Ekon is elated by the experience. Before now, his only knowledge of deconstruction machines had come from books and occasionally seeing them in action. He can not remember a time he was not fascinated with the giant machines that are shaped like reptilians and move like them too. Operating one is as destructive and exciting as he thought it would be.
The claws of the machine are meant for scooping or digging, but Ekon uses them to smash a hump here, a business there. With every slam of the claws, the crowd being held at bay by enforcers gasps. He is disappointed he can not hear most of the people’s gasps over the noise, but their angry or shocked facial expressions make up for it.
Ekon struggles to keep the stomping machine on two feet. It tilts left and right, while reducing everything it touches to dust. He leans over the control panel and beyond the dusty windshield to see the destruction he is causing. The machine’s primary operator tells him to take it easy. Ekon yells at the man to shut up. The machine digs, crushes, and claws until a majority of the highest point of the High District is rubble.
Bringing the machine to a rest, Ekon unstraps himself from the primary control seat and stretches. His muscles are tight from the cramped space. He uses the door behind him to exit down the stairs that are in the place of where the spine would be on a living being. A sense of vertigo pulls at him when he touches the unleveled ground. He is proud of the debris he sees around him.
Facing north from this point, Ekon could see the whole Low District and parts of the capital. With the fiery moon raining down, it is a perfect viewpoint. Well, it will be perfect once the whole Low District is torn down. It is an eyesore. Unlike the High District which has mounds worth looking at, the Low District’s are small and ugly.
Ekon had considered tearing down the capital and starting over, but he knows the capital is important and filled with influential people. Plus, the high point on which he stands is where his fortress will be built. It will be tall enough to see the whole Grot and most of the capital.
“Thank you are for coming to witness this groundbreaking point in history,” Ekon says, bowing slightly.
“What do you think you’re doing?” a heavily bearded man yells from the crowd. He unsuccessfully attempts to push past the barrier of enforcers. They stop him, and others from the crowd cheers for the man.
“I’m making the High District beautiful. You should be thanking me,” Ekon says, making a mock sad face.
“It is already beautiful. You just tore down dozens of people’s homes and businesses that have been here for hundreds of years,” says Beard Man.
“This is the price of beauty.”
“We don’t want you here. Go back to the capital,” a woman screams. She is short and chubby, old as dirt.
“You people are so ungrateful,” says Ekon, picking his teeth. “I was going to answer questions, but if you’re going to be rude about it, I won’t.”
The throng of people grows immensely. They line the streets in every direction. The number of enforcers are dwarfed by the people. Ekon relishes the screams, shouts and threats. His soul is nourished by the sheer hate these traitors have for him. He laughs aloud, doubling over as he does.
“You think this is funny? We have rights,” Beard Man says.
“Quiet, everyone. Quiet,” Ekon says loudly as he can. The shouts turn to mumbles. “The city of Grot, both districts, have been aiding a wanted fugitive, my sister Bahati.”
“We don’t know anything about that,” says the fat lady.
“Your beloved Juju helped Bahati flee justice, and for that he lost his life. Anyone who sees Bahati and does not inform enforcers will suffer the same fate as Juju.”
“We’re not afraid of you or your enforcers,” the fat lady says.
“Fear does not determine whether you die. I do, and you will if you disobey me. What I did here today,” Ekon says motioning to the wreckage behind him, “is a fraction of the havoc I can cause. Before you choose to defy me, ask yourself, ‘Do I want to die today?’”
For effect, Ekon, closes his mouth and lets his last sentence sink in. He feels the weight of them crushing every ounce of defiance. There is fear, hate and disgust in the air. He inhales and exhales slowly, his big chest deflating. He feels wonderful. The only thing that will make this moment better is if the people kneel.
“Nobody has to die,” Ekon says, sad knowing this is true. He would rather take as many lives as he can. “We can work together to build a new, more powerful Yabisi. Imagine the capital, Grot and every other city on our world coming together as one. Do you know what we would be capable of?”
“That’s nonsense. You have destroyed a quarter of the High District. You think we want to work with you?” the fat lady says.
“Bring her to me,” Ekon says to his enforcers.
Two of them carry her by the arms. She kicks and screams, but she is no match for the large enforcers.
“I gave you a chance to shut your fat mouth. You’ve worn my patience,” Ekon says to the woman. He turns to the crowd. “Let this be your final warning.”
He brandishes the blade too quickly for anyone to see where he drew it from. Tracing it along the woman’s trembling body, he stops at her throat, then he proceeds to stop it on her blouse where her heart is. It sends vibrations through the knife’s handle. As the blade digs slowly into her chest, she yelps and blood blooms on her blouse. She closes her eyes, and he yanks her to the ground by her hair. The kick he gives her in the back sends her stumbling past the enforcers and into the crowd.
It takes everything within Ekon not to go after the woman and slit her throat. The adrenaline he had felt while debating whether to kill her has ebbed. He satisfies his blood lust by promising himself there will be others to slay. He knows this is not the right moment to fulfill the satisfaction he chases that comes with taking lives.
“Consider that an act of good faith. As much as I like killing traitors and disobeyers, I will let her live for today,” Ekon says.
The bearded man helps her from the dirt. “You should kill us all right now. You will die if you don’t,” the man says.
Ekon shrugs. “We’ll see.”
It will be a long while before Ekon’s fortress is built, so he soothes himself by admiring the blueprint on his desk. Sitting in his office at the embassy, Ekon goes over the details of his fortress for the hundredth time. The details and anticipation have consumed him recently.
His castle will sit on the highest point of the High District, giving him a vantage point that will enable him to see four cities, including the capital and Grot. His castle will stop just below the clouds so his surveillance will not be blocked. It will be surrounded by four smaller guard towers manned by enforcers who will monitor the surrounding areas.
The entire Low District will be torn down and made into an extension of the capital and Ekon’s kingdom. Millions will lose their homes and businesses. Ekon has not decided how to deal with those people yet. There will be too many to arrest or house. Maybe he will have airbuses drop them in other cities and let them fend for themselves. What he will not do is let them come in the way of his vision for Yabisi.
Once the Low District is demolished and the filth called residents are out, construction on the grandest section of Yabisi will begin. Ekon can imagine the giant towers glistening in the moonlight. They will be shining gods to the rest of the world. When visitors from beyond the stars come, this is where they will stay. They will praise Ekon as having built the most impressive kingdom since the beginning of time. The people of the galaxy will be his appreciative, loyal subjects.
All will be fine when it is said and done, but he has more immediate concerns. Stella had known someone was coming to kill her. She had anticipated and thwarted the attack. This bothers him. Only a few had known his plan. He doubts Fateen would have tipped Stella off. He has too much to lose and gain. Cimicidae is an unsavory, self-centered worm, but would he rat them all out?
Ekon shoves the thoughts away and takes a fresh bottle of dart blood and a cup from his desk. The tangy aroma of the blood dances on the air, causing his mouth to water. He stirs the cup, closes his eyes and inhales. There is a faint iron-like smell to the liquid just beneath its sweetness. He licks his scaly lips.
A memory comes to the brink of his thoughts. Ekon struggles not to think. He does not want to think or remember, but the memory is as insistent as an uninvited guest who has come too far to be turned away. Ekon relents and begrudgingly lets the door of his mind open to the unwanted memory.
“Men have gone mad from poison dart blood. It is what drove your father away,” his Khalia says to him.
It is just him and her sitting on a bench in the capital. The wind blows, but it is irregularly hot out. The breeze would be greater if the tall buildings were not blocking it. He, the boy him, watches the passersby and turns over in his mind what his mother has just said.
“Is Father dead? Did the dart blood kill him?” the child Ekon asks.
A graying dreadlock sways in Khalia’s face, and she tucks it behind her ear. “I don’t know. Before he left, he said demons were chasing him. Said he had to outrun the demons.”
“Maybe the demons caught him.”
“Maybe they did, except demons don’t exist, not literally. Demons are no more than bad deeds catching up to the perpetrator.”
The memory is too much, and Ekon forces it away once more, files and burns it. He does not want it back. It is not his memory. It belongs to a weak boy who he no longer is.
“There is no such thing as bad deeds. Demons do exist,” he screams.
His words bounce off the walls and fold back on him with greater force. He swings at the air, spins and falls on his desk. Papers and electronics clatter to the floor. The one thing that does not move is the glass of dart blood.
Ekon is seething, feeling challenged by the memory of Khalia, by Bahati’s defiance, by Grot for aiding her, by Stella for thwarting his advancement at every turn. They all deserve death. The hate for them runs deep within him. It is the air in his lungs, the blood in his veins, the thing that gets him out of bed in the morning.
Standing, he goes to the window and looks down upon the capital’s peons. They are weaklings, all of them. He slams his fists on the window. The glass shakes, yet the people below can not hear him. This angers him further.
“You owe me,” Ekon says to the people down there. “I let you live. You owe me your worthless souls.”
He sits back at his desk and gulps the glassful of blood in one swallow. It burns on its way down, and he bares his teeth. Before he knows it, he is cracking open a third bottle. The walls have begun to tilt forward and backward. The pictures of him on the walls have taken on new, strange faces.
Then, she is there. The smell of death and wilted flowers is there. Khalia is sitting across from him on the other side of the desk, one leg casually thrown over the other. Her gray dreadlocks dust the floor behind her chair. She smiles sympathetically, showing her teeth. They are filed as they usually are, low and straight as a humanoid’s. She picks something Ekon can not see from her dress.
“You are doing better than I thought you were,” Khalia says, pursing her mouth to hold back a laugh that eventually escapes. Her skin is greyish green like she is dying again.
“I’m doing way better than you did as high speaker. The universe will respect Yabisi,” Ekon hears himself say, the words slurred.
“Respect. That’s an interesting word. It’s something I tried to teach you your whole life. I did a horrible job.”
“There’s nothing you can teach me. You’re dead,” he says, slamming the empty glass on his desk. Rage boils in him.
“You learn more from death than life.”
He points at her, rings on his fingers shining. “That I agree with. I learn a lot from other people’s deaths like how not to die.” He laughs hysterically.
“You’re quite the joker when you think all the cards are in your favor, aren’t you?”
“I guess I am. I’m a king. Soon, I will be a god.”
“What’s the liveliest thing about gods?” The question sounds like a riddle.
“They’re not me?”
“They’re dead,” Khalia says, vanishing.
Ekon yells and rants for her stay away. He twists and turns in every direction, searching for the person who is laughing. No one is there. His heart is drumming against his ribcage, as sweat burns his eyes. He collapses to the floor, looking at the high ceiling.
He questions his sanity. Then, he laughs at himself. Being a terrific leader comes with great stress. He needs something or someone to use a stress reliever. His team must capture Stella alive. He can imagine the satisfaction her high-pitched screams would create, will create. She must be brought in alive.
The chair squeaks, as Ekon sits in it again. He takes the blueprints from the floor and spreads them on his desk once again. They are lovely. These papers represent his greatness. They are symbolic of his hard work and determination. He is anxious to sit on the throne the galaxy owes him.
Ekon’s eyelids close without his consent or knowledge. One moment he is in his embassy office. The next, he is on his throne with hundreds, thousands, millions kneeling before him. In his right hand is a blade as long his arm. In the other, he clasps a goblet filled to the brim with poison dart blood. His subjects praise him while he sips to their cheers. From his prospective, this is not a dream. It is a foretelling of a reality to come.