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The Harem

The Counselor Emeritus walked solemnly into the large chamber, sterile with antiseptic, plush with velvets and brocade. It was dusk, an appropriate time to begin the holy ritual, new today but no doubt destined to become a highly significant and sanctified observance in the centuries to come. What he was doing today, alone, would probably someday be done by a team of holy priests and elders, according to a plethora of specific and arcane customs. He'd best leave copious notes, later.

The attendants had left yesterday evening; the Counselor was grateful that all of them had found other jobs. Their work here had been simple, but prestigious; most had moved into top administrative positions in hospitals and sanitariums. He probably should have required them to participate in some sort of group ritual, but he'd allowed them instead to say good-bye in their own individual ways. Let one of his successors organize how that bit should go.

He walked slowly over to the old one, the first of them all. The Counselor had always felt a strange sort of fondness for this one. Almost as old as the old king himself, this one served as a kind of portrait of Dorian Gray, aging and degenerating in comatose grace while his royal peer kept himself young with potions and surgeries and bits and pieces of the various others who lay resting in state in this magnificent room.

That young one, there, had lost the skin of his cheeks and neck in his service to the king. That middle-aged one wore an aluminum pump to replace the heart which had continued to beat strong in the chest of the king until just a few weeks ago. That one had donated a liver to replace one damaged by cirrhosis. That one a finger, and later, hip joints. And that one, in what the Counselor privately thought was the most foolish of vanities, a scrotum and penis.

Corneas, kneecaps, inner ears, blood - this room was a storehouse of treasures belonging to the king. In past generations this wing of the palace had housed the king's harem, but having more than four wives was not practicable in the modern age. The wing had fallen into disuse, until technology had granted this new privilege of kings. A new category of royalty and their attendants had soon filled the rooms. Until yesterday, when the attendants left. And now there was only him, and the quiet ones.

He ran his fingers gently through the soft, sparse white hair of the old one. As always, he felt the human contact, different than when he touched the others. The brain stem separation technique had been much cruder when this one was born, and the Counselor had always wondered if perhaps wisps of consciousness remained. The old one had lain here, perhaps absorbing vague streams of emotion and activity, for almost a hundred years. Observing, reflecting, detached. Almost God. The Counselor lovingly ran his thumb across an old withered cheek. He had not allowed any intrusions to this one in his six decades of care. One did not desecrate God.

"I protected you, old man," he whispered. He felt at peace with his decision now, although he had been wracked with guilt a month ago. The king had died, finally, horribly, of an inoperable brain tumor. And none of these dozens of brains was usable because of the chemicals used in the brain stem separation procedure. Except perhaps for this one, left unmentioned by himself and the attendants, united in an unspoken conspiracy of conflicted loyalties.

He looked around at the sterile, sumptuous room. He should have brought candles, and incense. Music would have been nice. And perhaps elegant ceremonial gowns for all of them, and ornate high priest robes for himself. Ah well, he could always write that he'd included these things; who would know? And he really should have. It would have been nice.

He thought of the little weasel who was the new king, who couldn't act quickly enough to change things, to push the old out and bring the new in. The new king had no conception of how much he owed the Counselor; if the Counselor hadn't badgered the old king for forty years to establish a succession, that effete brat would be lying here with the rest of them now, brain full of chemicals, parts of his body chopped out for the cause.

Out with the old. The new king had ordered him to dispose of the harem, the "hulls" as he called them in his disrespectful way. He wanted to grow his own, new, fresh, unsullied by service to anyone but himself.

There was only one he wanted to keep, the youngest one, bred half-a-dozen years ago, never used, pristine, fresh. The attendants had wheeled that one out yesterday, before they left. The new king wanted to keep that one in his private quarters until the harem chambers had been revamped and updated in preparation for the new king's needs.

The Counselor shuddered to think of what plans the new king might have for the young one, horrific plans that would have only the most perverted resemblance to organ reserve and retrieval. But he had no authority to protest, since he himself had also been replaced. This "hull disposal", as the new king called it, was his last official act as Counselor.

He needed to think of a better name for it, something to distinguish its ritual sanctity. Something that fit with candles and incense and chanting, fasting and purification and gnashing of teeth, robes and garland and sacrifice.

That was it. Sacrifice. This was the Ritual of Last Sacrifice, when we honor the ones who sacrificed so much, and send them off in honor to their final rest.

The tears came then, streaming down his cheeks in benediction and baptism and honor for life that was non-life. He cried, caressing the cheek of the old one, squeezing the hand that had never been able to squeeze back. He walked slowly around the room, showing honor and sorrow to each of the ones, stopping before each to wipe a loving teardrop from his face across eyes that had never cried and lips that had never kissed.

He finished showing honor, then he walked over to the master control panel. He'd elaborate on the process later, when he wrote it all down.

"Good-bye," he said, and turned off the power to the room.

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