My father casts his shadow 50 feet over my shoulder out onto the cobblestones of Prazania Square. The outline of his preposterous Generals hat is the icing on the cake. If someone had told me I would be standing in front of his statue wearing the same hat giving a speech to the nation, I would have laughed, but reality is stranger than fiction.
Side note: by law, my father's statue is the tallest structure in the capital city. Which is fine by me because I build most of my structures underground.
I face the crowd of seventy thousand and begin the speech, peppered with long pauses for gravitas. “People of Prazania. On All Soul’s Day, November 2nd. We bow down, to commemorate our heroes. Lost in the war, to gain independence from Grozania.”
They look at the ground silently. The war between our two nations located in the Andes highlands between Argentina and Chile ended generations ago.
“Moving on,” I say. Everyone looks up again. “Today is also National Shepherd’s day. I present the curly fleece award for our nation's best alpaca shepherd to Lautaro Campos of Pravdec Province.”
One of my bodyguards escorts Lautaro to the stage and I present him with the award. The crowd erupts in wild applause, an authentic cheer with whistles and shouts, not the dutiful short applause I receive when I announce a new deputy minister or the propaganda’s department's economic statistics.
“Next. The award for light Huacaya female Alpaca goes to Mirjana of Damir Province…”
There’s a tap on my shoulder. The Foreign Minister. “The Americans are here,” she says, “The US Marines attaché is waiting at the West Palace, and Alpaca Republic is at the East Palace.”
I'm not good at being decisive at times like this.
“Whom would you like to meet first, Supreme Leader?”
“Business is tedious,” I say. “Let’s go to the West Palace first.”
I want to get this over with so I can get back to playing SpaceCraft this afternoon.
While driving to the West Palace, the events of the past twenty years run through my mind. Being Supreme Ruler wasn’t always the life I wanted. When we toured Athens in 2008, I almost escaped the whole bad situation. I hopped on the ferry to Santorini alone while dad was off viewing marble palaces for redecorating ideas. Three weeks of partying later, dad’s secret police tracked me down to the hotel breakfast buffet and the rest is Prazanian history. Sadly, they don't offer asylum in Santorini to 12 year olds.
On Dad's deathbed last year, he said, “I’ve never liked you. But a great secret has been passed down by our leaders, from generation to generation. Here is the key to Mount Sniježn…”
“You never liked me?” I blurted out.
I bit my tongue and took his stupid key to the old antiques he was handing over, and effectively this conversation was over.
“Son, rule this nation, for the alpacas.”
I turned back around to look at him. He knew I had a fondness for our national animal.
”May our alpacas always belong to Prazania,” he said, “Promise me this.”
“I promise, Dad.”
From that moment, I decided I would give the alpaca herdsmen surviving on three bowls of Quinoa soup a day a leader to proud of. And the things they would not be proud of, I would do in my underground bunker.
We arrive at the West Palace to meet the American military representatives.
“What’s on their agenda today?” I ask Foreign Minister Nadia.
“The situation north of the fence, Supreme Leader.”
“Those f*rs.” There’s nothing that gets my attention more than the Grozanians.
Marine Colonel Spatz, is in a conference room.
“We have identified insurgents smuggling stolen alpacas north of the fence. Our Marines have been tracking their movements and have prepared a joint strike plan,” Spatz says.
“Tell me more. What does my military need to do?”
“Sit back, and let our drones do the work Its just like watching a computer game.”
It's great to hear I don’t need to divert food away from schools and hospitals to mobilize the army like I did for the last raid.
“With those conditions,” I say, “Prazania agrees to the joint Prazanian-American strike plan.”
Marine Colonel Spatz turns his laptop around.
"Our satellites are overhead."
I see infrared images with gps coordinates displayed. The view pans past a herd of 200 alpacas to a small building. The satellite zooms in. Through the tin roof I see 3 people who appear to be playing cards. In another room there's heat from someone cooking and smaller figures moving around.
"Insurgent's location confirmed."
Glowing dots move across the screen toward the building. There’s a flash, just like on SpaceCraft when I blow up an opponent's ring station.
I snap my fingers over my head. A bottle of Krazac arrives and the palace band begins playing a victory march in the next room.
“Let’s toast our victory over Grozania!”
Spatz laughs deeply in the way Americans do and downs his shot in one go like a real man. “Just remember what my dad always told me, there’s no such thing as a free drone strike.”
“Here’s another drink to that,” I hand both of us another shot.
After the seventh shot of Krazac, I decide I better go to the next meeting before I get tipsy. Its bound to be all about numbers again. You see, after the Bubulemon scandal, synthetic fleeces are now anathema to upper middle class consumers around the world. Pre-brunch yoga moms, office dad outdoors men and pre-teen reality star hopefuls all insist on wearing natural fibers again. As they amount to 74% of the world’s population, a great alpaca boom is at hand.
In the East Palace conference room a man dressed like an American corporate manager is sitting with a team of assistants.
“Greetings my friend. I’m Supreme Ruler of Prazania, 5th of my line, Duke of Pravdec and Lapacia, Protector of the Herd..”, I say. “You know the rest.” The Americans like to be crazy informal.
“All hail his reign,” a sergeant at arms booms out from the back, Obviously not reading the mood of the supreme ruler.
The American motions to cover his ear from the noise but stops himself in time. Clearly he’s not a stoic warrior like Colonel Spatz.
“I am Dan, first of my line, protector of Ohio…” he stutters nervously.
“Bro. Just be normal, I went to Ohio State,” I say. Even though the Yale library is named after our family, my dad had a thing against elite universities, and sent me to public school.
“Dan Johnson, deputy procurement director for Alpaca Republic.” He extends his sweaty hand toward me. I give him a fist bump. In a country full of alpacas shepherds, we don’t shake hands. We don’t know where they’ve been.
Nadia hands me an alcohol wipe.
The American continues, “Supreme Ruler. Have you considered our offer?”
All the business proposals don’t bring a lot of upside to me, and involve a lot of paperwork, so I normally turn them down.
“Dan,” I say, “We respect your company’s position as purveyor of overpriced sportswear to suburban mall shoppers from Los Angeles to Moscow. But we would like to continue selling our sheered alpaca fleece in the free market to buyers in Asia, Africa and Europe.”
“Supreme Ruler. I didn’t want to bring this up today,” he says hesitatingly. A bead of sweat drips down his forehead. ”Remember when you accepted the 10,000 SpaceCraft credits from us as a gift for your royal birthday?”
“Yes, thanks for those,” I nod.
“When you clicked accept terms and conditions, in clause 73, it states you agree to transfer your nation's rights to distribute Prazania fleece to Alpaca Republic in perpetuity.”
“I understand most people who click don’t have a nation’s rights to alpaca fleece to transfer, but you do.”
“Always read the terms and conditions,” I mumble to myself. What Prazania’s Attorney General tells me over and over.
Next week, Nadia comes over to my office excited.
“Supreme Ruler! Come watch, we are on BDC News.”
BDC news never mentions Prazania. After Russia, China and Iran surrendered like dominoes last year, BDC foreign affairs segment now mostly talks about the threats Nigeria and Swaziland pose to the American heartland. Never mentioning us even though we are one of their most important trading partners.
- BDC NEWS - “In a flagrant defiance of international law, the Supreme Ruler of Prazania refuses to fulfill his international contract with Alpaca Republic.”
“Nadia,” I ask, “do they mean the Alpaca Republic terms & conditions that we ignored?”
“I’m afraid so, Supreme Ruler.”
- BDC NEWS - “Prazania’s leader tightens his grip on dissent this week.”
“Nadia, did I do any work this week?”
“No, Supreme Ruler. Just takeout lunches and computer games.”
- BDC NEWS - “Questions raised about the legitimacy of Prazania’s dictator.”
Dictator?! There must be some American cultural knowledge I’m lacking. I call my American drinking buddy Colonel Spatz. His secretary says he’s in a meeting..
“Supreme Ruler, Would you like to move to Mount Snijez?” Nadia asks.
“Sorry, I don’t want to see Dad’s old junk, not when our nation is in crisis.”
- BDC NEWS - “Prazania’s northern neighbor Grazonia to address the UN security council tomorrow.”
People in America think Prazanians don’t have technology because we are in South America but they are wrong about that. We may not have drones and fighter jets, but our security services have an audio feed, a laser, aimed into the Groznian leader's palace, reflecting the sound waves off his Austrian cuckoo clock back to our embassy. We bought it all on of a US government surplus website.
I turn it on my speaker and hear Sultan Gug mumbling something about finances.
Then I hear Colonel Spatz’s voice.
“Sultan. We have traced funding of the guerrillas back to the ruler South of the fence.”
Gug says, “South of the fence?”
“Yes, South of the fence.”
“G*ckers.” Grozian is a very guttural.
“G*ckers,” Spatz agrees, “We propose a joint Grozian-American strike.”
My hands are now twitching uncontrollably as if I just finished a 20-hour gaming session.
“What does Grozania’s military need to do?”
“Sit back and watch.”
“Grozania agrees to the joint strike plan.”
Spatz says, "target confirmed."
I turn back to Nadia. “Run!”
We drop everything and rush down the secret staircase to my gaming den. Being 30 meters underground and away from all the advisors and arranged marriages, some might even call it a bunker.
Behind us the nation’s military leader shows up.
General Petra says, “Too bad we’re not at Mount Snijez.”
“Mount Snijez?” I ask. “Why does everyone keep blabbering about fucking Mount Snijez?”
“Supreme Ruler. The space laser,” he says., “The one that shoots down the satellites.”
“Your grandfather built it in 1987 after the Americans bombed Belgrade. He pretended it was a Big Secret.” The General makes air quotes around big secret. “But every time he had too much Krazac he’d brag about it and shoot his fingers like little lasers at the ceiling.”
“Why didn’t anyone tell ME about it?” No one says anything. Then I remember dad’s final words. “Oh.”
I go to look for the key to Mount Snijez from dad in the hall of treasures. I feel a boom of a distant explosion. Then a much closer one. Plaster falls like snow from the ceiling. Damn. I just paid 500,000 dollars to have that ceiling fresco done. I’ll have to hire the same guy to work for seven years again.
Everything goes dark.
Luckily, the ten American cruise missiles were just a warning shot. Too bad about the Imperial Guard though. Dad was the one who talked them into standing there like alpacas in front of the palace instead of running for cover like any normal person would have done in that situation.
As is probably obvious, I survived. I took the package as they say in America. After six months, I’ve even gotten used to seeing their ad campaigns to ‘raise brand awareness’:
Fleece vests, jackets and coats manufactured from single origin Prazania alpaca are available exclusively at Alpaca Republic branches located in most major shopping malls.
Life in exile is a bit dull. I’ve walked the three neighborhoods of Geneva about a hundred times already. Each day I walk past a giant chair they built in front of the UN office that’s 50 feet tall that’s missing one leg. It’s like the statues my dad built that BDC made a mockumentary about, but here they call it a monument. At least I can have a laugh once in a while about the ironies of life with my new friends from Swaziland. And in SpaceCraft, I have been designated Supreme Ruler for life, but it comes with a lot less responsibility.