I looked down at the ground. “We’re different, aren’t we? Me and Dad, I mean? I’ve always sort of felt that way.”
His Majesty nodded. “Illegally different, actually. The same gengineering tech that created Rabbits to begin with can serve to alter them as well, you see.” He looked away again. “You were optimized for intelligence, initiative and ability, David, instead of servility. More specifically, you were gifted with technical and leadership skills in the hope that you’d make an exceptional merchantman’s officer someday. Because for a Rabbit to succeed in a human world nothing less than truly exceptional would do.”
“I see,” I whispered back.
“There are a few others,” the king continued. “You’d have found one of the females far more attractive than a run-of-mill servile type, or at least you were so designed. Eventually you’d have been encouraged to marry, and with a little help your children would’ve been more capable still. We’d have seen to it that they rose even higher, so that humanity might learn that ancient bloodlines don’t mean so much after all.” He sighed again. “Certainly it would’ve led to chaos and turmoil. Maybe even war and suffering. My own House might’ve fallen. But growth is like that, David. You have to accept the pains with the gains.”
I nodded slowly. “I see.”
He sighed and sipped more chocolate milk. “This current war changes everything, of course. And so, in its way, does your Sword. Truth be told, I expect we’ll be forced to the table soon to make peace. It won’t last long, however. We’re at loggerheads with the Imperials in a very fundamental way, and this fight won’t end until either their realm collapses or mine.” His eyes hardened. “I may be forced to accept a short-term peace; their surprise-attack accomplished that much even if it blackened their names forever.” His ancient hands formed fists. “But I intend to win the larger war, David, never doubt it for a moment! If it takes every last credit and costs me my crown, I’ll win it!” He pounded the arm of his chair. “Because I must ! Because Mankind and Rabbitkind and all the rest of us should move forward , not fall back into some wretched dark age.”
“I’ll do whatever I can to help,” I heard myself say, though I wasn’t really sure I meant it. Burning had hurt a lot , and I didn’t ever want to have to face it again.
His Highness smiled. “That brings us back to square one, David. And why I’m so sorry I had to give you the Sword. The plan as it once stood, the one where you’d have spent the rest of your life as a chief engineer and your son would’ve become a merchant captain, is wrecked beyond all salvage. That plan would’ve demanded much of you, though in fairness it also offered much in return. But now…” He sighed. “Son, I won’t force you, because what I’m going to ask isn’t something that can rightly be demanded of a man or a Rabbit either one. Nor do I want you to decide here and now. You’ve a little childhood left, and I want you to enjoy every minute of it that you can. But…” He looked away.
“The greatest stronghold of the nobility in this entire realm is the navy, David. The bulk of the officer corps are of blue blood, and the higher one rises the truer this becomes. Like it or not, these are the movers and shakers of our universe—impress them , and the impression will spread.” His Highness sighed. “My beloved subject, quite by accident you’re in an advantageous position to advance some of the Kingdom’s most important goals at a crucial time in our history. We’re about to fight a long war, or more likely a long series of wars, and successful military leaders will be held in the highest of public esteem. You’ve already been decorated for courage after actions which speak for themselves to the most closed of minds—even that pompous ass Blaine was decent enough to properly credit you for his
Edward Lee, David G. Barnett