A publication once said or printed anyway that Deserter 27 was a future king of war. Back then Deserter 27 was tall and whip-strong and probably immortal. The experts who evaluated new soldiers had looked at him and carefully noted attributes shared by many young people who went on to become kings or queens. His hands and feet were too big for his frame, like a puppy. So was his ass, waiting patiently to be grown into.
The king analysts had hammered their centuries of shared wisdom into a rough system of understanding. It was not a science because it lacked laws. But just often enough the king experts were correct about who would and would not, and that gave them an authority. The authority gave them the confidence to continue carrying their traditional divining rods.
Once the rods, or one of the rods, were at the center of a scandal. A rod was left on a bus, an airport bus if memory serves. The man who found the road announced via a newspaper advertisement that he would make kings or queens or lesser but still noble creatures of anyone who offered him a sufficiently voluminous honorarium.
The king experts, fearing the loss of face, felt obliged to take out a larger ad in response explaining that the power of the rods was non-transferable. The capacity for turning base humanity into chieftain-and-higher level executives was not in the rod. That power was only inside the humans. And furthermore, what powers of understanding the rods did contain were whispered to the rod’s operator in an ancient and secret language. Unsurprisingly this language was only interpreted by the king experts, by drawing on a correspondingly ancient and secret body of data and lore.
Of course the experts knew that the rods were purely symbolic and always had been. They had not been concerned that the man who found the lost rod would flood the world with unlicensed monarchs, thus debasing the nature of authority. But they still felt obliged to protect and honor the rods. Even though majesty could not be created and could only be understood, the rods were still a part of their family.
It was not many years after the misplaced rod issue danced away in the wind that the experts began to appear in television, thanks to their own instinct for self-promotion and the good offices of a publicist blessed with foresight about changes in the media landscape. The suits the king experts wore for their television segments were blocky, shiny and stiff. Underneath their special conical hats, the glistening gray fabrics looked like some strange conservative sect of exotic dancer.
Before the airport bus incident and the newspaper ad salvoes and the offscreen detente leading to the return of the missing rod, before television, the king experts met in sad sullen rooms. They gummed expensive, shitty cigars in filthy office warrens. The walls and furniture and occupants were browned by smoke. These chambers were flophouses for wayward ideas. In one such dropceilinged brownness, about two generations ago, depending on how you count generations or whether generations even exist, the old unhealthy king experts, the ones born before the splitting of the atom (retaining a certain molecular innocence and weariness) pronounced that Deserter 27 (who of course had a different number then) was a future king of war.
The information was put into an annually circulated list of future kings, bound and stapled and retailed across the nations of the alliance. The list came out as a special issue of WAR TODAY magazine—the NEW KINGS issue, celebrated and sanctified by a special push by the ad reps. It was read and memorized and informally archived on the tables of strip-mall barbershops, where young boys might peruse for months and months to come, tearing themselves away from the infinite embrace of mirrored walls to see themselves in these future kings instead.
WAR TODAY long ago went out of business, having lost its advertising base to the televisions and the websites. Every so often one of its longer pieces, seeming stylized but really just warped by the passage of time, is revived and circulated by adepts of vanished transient information.
So 27 was a future king of war. This status was meant more to suggest that pending proper development he could be a possible future king; nothing was guaranteed, not by the experts anyway. In those days the market for analog graven images had not yet collapsed. This was before the big gravening firms spun off their print devisions to satisfy stockholders.
These were also the days of a new season of war. There was to be a desert campaign, and fans keened for preemptive memorabilia. Trading cards were printed. Deserter 27 had his own card. In patriotic colors and playful type beneath 27’s old name was FUTURE KING. If this was still only a possibility and not a promise, no one could convince his eyes.
[to be finished/whatevered/otherwised]