Only two things in life were constant, in Dru-Zod’s estimation: entropy and bureaucracy. All things tended to decline, to dissipate, and required intervention to maintain or progress. And along with that, all things tended to require meetings and studies and, most dreadfully, the complex forms. There was no such thing on Old or New Krypton as ‘paperwork’, as the majority of documents were stored digitally, yet there were still tedious requests to fill out and forms to complete.
The Supreme Chancellor delegated as much of it as he dared, but it would not do for him to be completely divorced from the process. That invited graft and corruption. Furthermore, he could not ignore the endless lists of documents completely without appearing as if he did not understand what his lieutenants did, and was unaware of conditions in the armed forces. So he arranged to be reading reports just before most meetings began, thus cementing his reputation as a conscientious leader.
With his own people, however, he could dispense with some of the subterfuge. Especially those who reported directly to him; their loyalty was assured. And of those he trusted, the highest in his esteem was Ursa, who was in charge of the Kryptonian military police, the Consulars. The fact that their ranks included most of his unofficial intelligence officers as well as most of the spies inserted into his organization by his political rivals was no accident.
So when he met with Ursa, Dru-Zod had no need to make a show of how dedicated he was to his calling. She already knew the depth of his zeal. Likewise, though she was absolutely stringent about protocols in all other circumstances, in his presence she was rather more relaxed than anyone who reported to her would ever believe. They understood each other; of the entirety of his kind, no one else, not even his wife Fayora, knew Dru-Zod’s mind as well as Ursa did.
Since it was just the two of them, and his office was checked for recording devices several times a day, when Ursa came in to report she simply took a seat. She was already smiling, and that boded ill for someone somewhere. “Ursa, my dear, I trust you bring me good news?”
“Of course, General.” She accepted his authority alone, had even discarded the name of her house rather be bound by them, and would not call him by his given name. Yet she also did not use his current title. He had been the General to her when they first met, he had been the General during their long perilous journey to this planet, and now that he faced a simmering war of rebellion against these pathetic humans, he was more the General than ever.
“Very well then. Enlighten me.” He leaned back in his chair, and she mirrored his casual pose.
“The miners’ productivity is between 8 and 12 percent higher than projections,” she began, quoting as usual without reference to digital notes. Most of their topics of discussion could not be trusted to any recording device more permanent than the mind. “Some of this, surely, is as a cover for the black market. They think as long as they do not shirk, we will not suspect them. Of course, we suspect them more for being superlatively productive in such an alien environment.” She shook her head with a slight chuckle at the miners’ naïveté.
“As you asked, I’ve discovered that most of the trade consists of innocuous items. Nearly half, by volume, is spices. Our miners long for the taste of home, and our people here have made human-style seasonings a ridiculous fad.” Ursa couldn’t help sneering a little at that.
It was ridiculous, but not dangerous. “And the rest?”
“Odds and ends, mostly. Plants, generally the ones that are edible or decorative. Various textiles. Artwork, quite a lot of that, actually. Some of our artists are evidently much inspired by the humans’ work. Even I must admit they sometimes have a certain … brash, declarative style that is at once counter to everything we value as a people, and yet strangely appealing.”
That information did not surprise him in the least. Human culture did have a tendency toward bold iconoclasm, and even as harmonious as Krypton was, all societies had their rebels. “I believe I have noticed a similar effect,” he told her. “And the rest?”
“Some small amounts of their medicines and recreational drugs have been imported. The recipients are our scientists, who appear to be engaged in legitimate study. There are also some novel items – a few articles of furniture, some primitive human electronic devices, and the like.”
“Harmless,” Dru-Zod said, and Ursa nodded agreement. “What is less so is the traffic in information.”
Her gaze hardened with frustration. “Those fools on the Council! How dare they preempt you?”
“They saw no harm in opening the link to the humans’ communications systems, or in making the software to interface with it available to the public. And that is why they are dangerous. Not because they are wise and intelligent men wielding great power, but because they are short-sighted and vainglorious men wielding power they do not comprehend.”
“Can we not shut down the communication? Surely we can find a pretext with which to reserve those functions for legitimate government business?”
“Oh, we certainly could,” Dru-Zod sighed. “Yet to do so would cause more criticism of my authority. I have enough rebuke in the person of Zor-El, and those like him, without inviting more.”
The anger glittering in Ursa’s dark eyes spoke volumes of her opinion concerning Zor-El. “A visit to the Phantom Zone would quell his wagging tongue.”
“And make him a martyr. I can sense the discontent amongst the people, Ursa. They trust me now, for we are at war and they are reassured by having a warrior in command. But we will not always be mired in conflict, and there will always be those who accuse me of misusing my position, who claim I have no intention of surrendering power.”
“Why should you? Have you not single-handedly saved an entire race from destruction at the apathetic hands of its elected masters?”
“Not quite single-handedly,” he corrected. “Your assistance was and is invaluable to me. We also could never have left the planet’s surface without the ingenuity of Jor-El.”
“Is that why you do not punish the traitor? Out of gratitude toward his brother?” Ursa asked.
Ordinarily the Supreme Chancellor disliked any questioning of his motives. He permitted Ursa the luxury, however, because he was assured of her loyalty. “It is because of Jor-El, but not in gratitude. No, we need Jor-El. The people trust his wisdom and insight. As long as he remains a staunch supporter, Zor-El looks like a mere rabble-rouser. By tolerating Zor-El, we ensure that Jor-El remains at least publicly our ally.”
“Publicly?” Ursa asked. “You mean to say you suspect him of treason?”
“He has tried to reason with me over this war,” Dru-Zod said, with a slight smile. “With most earnest and rational arguments he has tried to sway me into more tolerant treatment of the humans. Of course, he is not in possession of all the facts.”
Ursa grinned. Some things could never be spoken of, some secrets were too dangerous to expose to the open air, even if this office was as tightly protected as any place on New Krypton. The fact that Supreme Chancellor Zod had known how humans would react to a strange ship in low-earth orbit was one of those closely-guarded secrets.
She alone knew that he had intentionally sacrificed the ship and its crew, including one of his own lieutenants. The man in question was widely known to be one of his most trusted people, but he had not actually had Dru-Zod’s trust for some time, hence the choice of him for this mission. In death he could serve more completely than he had in life, and service was what he had sworn when he joined the military.
It had been a pragmatic decision. With the destruction of Old Krypton safely behind them and a new planet to tame, there seemed little need for a military leader. Soon enough the people would have begun to agitate for a return to democratic rule, and Dru-Zod could not permit that. Within a few years they would have returned to the same foolishness that nearly destroyed their entire species, debating every minor detail and denying anything that meant discomfort.
No, for the safety of generations to come, it was better that Krypton be led by a single ruler. One man, one vision, one authority to keep the bureaucratic nonsense to a minimum. And he was close to achieving his goal; an entire generation of Kryptonians had grown up under his rule, and they were well satisfied with their lot in life. They saw him as a brilliant strategist, perhaps even a savior. It was their parents and grandparents who yearned for the ideals of democracy, and who had forgotten that the reality of such had nearly killed them all.
What he needed was a conflict to showcase his strengths, and the humans had been a perfect opportunity. Their average lifestyle was abhorrent to the Kryptonian mindset, and they were technologically and scientifically millennia behind his own people. It was simple to foment distress of them, and he’d been able to declare war with the sacrifice of a single ship – an event that brought the majority of his followers firmly to his side. Now they saw him as a steadfast protector keeping the human menace at bay.
The fact that this Earth contained an abundance of the mineral compounds which accelerated crystal growth was even more convenient. His war would show material gains for everyone currently waiting for new structures. And of course, he would ensure that Kryptonian medical knowledge was dispensed to all the peoples of Earth, proving himself a compassionate and forgiving leader as well.
All of it was a perfect opportunity, and Ursa alone understood how he had taken advantage of that. Dru-Zod could trust her as he trusted no other; to her he was Rao personified, life-giver and death-bringer. It was not entirely hyperbole, as he had affected her life’s path more than she had known. For instance, she knew now that she would never have been accepted into military service if not for his direct intervention.
It had been one of the changes he’d managed to force through the Science Council, and a very sensible one indeed. Individuals who would be rejected from service due to character flaws such as instability or aggression – the sorts of things that often led to criminal behavior later in life, and expensive long-term rehabilitation – were now admitted and carefully monitored. Dru-Zod had argued that the structure and discipline of military service could help prevent such people from going astray, and it was folly to wait to cure antisocial behavior when a preventative was available.
Ursa, whose rebellion extended to casting off her family name, was one of the greatest challenges he had faced in proving his program’s worth. Over time and with careful handling, such as positioning her within the ranks so that all her commanding officers were female, she had become his most obvious success. A malcontent who acknowledged no authority had become the head of no less an organization than the Consulars, reporting directly to the then-General himself – that seemed to prove Dru-Zod’s genius to the Council.
Of course, Jor-El had rather spoiled the effect by pointing out that Dru-Zod’s ranks were seeded with potentially unstable individuals, and now they were trained fighters. Dru-Zod had listened carefully to his friend’s concerns and used the dialogue provoked by it to bind Jor-El closer to himself, all without letting on that he had planned from the start to have these borderline individuals under his command. If he had needed to take power by violence, he had a cadre of loyal soldiers throughout the ranks of his army who would back him at any cost. Most of them knew, like Ursa, that he had interceded on their behalf, and their fealty to him was considerable.
But none were like Ursa. It was a pity that he not met her until he was already married. Then again, if he had married someone within his own ranks instead of a well-bred lady like Faora, the Council might have been unduly worried by the depth of his dedication to the military, so perhaps in the end it was best that fate had happened as it did.
His reflective silence did not disturb her. She watched him carefully as he mused, and kept respectfully quiet. At last Dru-Zod roused himself from his reverie and acknowledged her patience with a nod. “Jor-El is no traitor. He is … conflicted, perhaps. But he is just like the rest of the scientists. To him, knowledge is the highest pursuit possible. He has no wish to become so embroiled in politics that his precious experiments suffer. Therefore he can safely be allowed some latitude with which I would not trust another. And I am well rewarded for my tolerance. His genius saved us once, and may do so again; I have no wish to alienate him.”
“You admire him,” Ursa said thoughtfully.
Dru-Zod shrugged. “I admire his intellect and his creativity. I have not forgotten, however, that it was a narrow decision which led him to support me. He could have put principle above practicality; you have seen that in his brother. In the end, I think, it was his son that changed his mind. Had he not sided with me, not only would he and Lara have perished, but the infant Kal-El also.”
That sparked interest in Ursa’s dark eyes. “Speaking of Kal-El, his human mentioned our use of their ‘internet’ to her family. She had a plausible enough reason; she is the youngest of the guests, and still required to take part in their formal education. I let it pass for the moment, but I recommend we watch Kal-El carefully.”
The Supreme Chancellor scoffed lightly. “Kal-El? He is even more a dreamer than his father. Keep watch, but do not invest too heavily in surveillance. There is little harm that such a youth could do, and I understand his human guest is scarce more than a child.”
Ursa accepted that with a nod. Their audience was drawing to a close, and she had one more concern to address. “Are you utterly certain that we should allow the free use of the ‘internet’ by all our people? I cannot help feeling that it is a pollutant of sorts.”
On that, his decision was made. “No, it is better that we permit the freedom of information, for now. Much of what they are able to access is dross, in any case, and will serve to divert them. I have been using the connection myself, to study human history. They have a saying, my dear: bread and circuses.”
The terms were unfamiliar, and she puzzled them out carefully. “Bread and circuses? It sounds … strange.”
“It is quite elegant. You see, if you address a people’s most basic concerns, symbolized here by bread, and provide them with entertainment, symbolized by circuses, then you create an enormous amount of public goodwill, while preventing your populace from becoming overly invested in civic duty. In the latter days of the human civilization of Rome, which had been a republic and bastion of democracy, it was ruled by emperors whose power was absolute. Why did the Romans permit this state of affairs? Because they were given a daily ration of bread, and entertained by violent spectacles known as games or circuses.”
“Elegant indeed,” Ursa murmured.
“So long as they are fed, clothed, sheltered, allowed to go about their little lives mostly unmolested, and amused, the common people will ignore the greater workings of government. See this current craze for herbs and spices from Earth: so long as that occupies their thoughts, they will not reflect on how those items are brought here.”