In 2006, when Pluto was demoted from being a planet, my first thoughts were how to write a story about it. I eventually came up with “The Kingdom of Beer” which is a standalone story set in my Human Republic Universe. When I was writing this, I was a fan of Bill Geist and his humorous look at small town America, so I modeled the main character on him. The story was published in October 2007 in Written Word, a site that went defunct not long after. For a few years, the story remained on their website, but recently when I went looking for it I found the website was gone. Of course, the reason I went looking for the story was because - at the day of posting this - New Horizons is just days away from flying by Pluto. Everyone will be looking for Pluto stories, I thought, so here's mine. I have given it a fresh polish, and I hope you enjoy it.
“The Kingdom of Beer”
The news anchor looked directly at the camera and flashed her perfect smile. “And finally, we’ve all heard of holidays being marked with fireworks, parades, and large quantities of good food. But a holiday where the main attraction is burning an organization in effigy?” She arched an eyebrow with the skill of an actor. “For that, we go to William Grange, on Pluto.”
A clean-shaven man in his mid-forties, dressed in a light-green body suit stood before a small window; the lower half of which was dark while the upper half was filled with stars. In a slow, even voice he began, “Next month marks the centennial of an historic act few people remember. On August 24, 2006, the IAU, the International Astronomical Union, the predecessor of at least seven organizations of today, voted on a new definition of a planet. The result was that Pluto, considered a planet for seventy-six years, was no longer one. The records indicate there was some brouhaha over the matter at the time, but it quickly faded.
“The members of the IAU probably gave little thought to what their decision would mean to the men and women who would eventually colonize Pluto. The emotional scarring from hearing snide remarks like, ‘Couldn’t you find a real planet?’ and other such childish jests. It is said that time heals all wounds, but today’s Plutonians have no intention of healing. The biggest advocate of keeping the rift alive between Pluto and the long-dissolved international body, is King Tobias Asher of Pluto. I interviewed the King recently in the only attraction on Pluto, The Witch’s Teat, described as the coldest pub in the solar system.”
The scene changed to show a man in his late fifties with a long beard that was turning white, sitting across from William. On the small table between them sat two bottles of beer.
“I’ve never interviewed a King before,” William said.
Tobias smiled and said, “I’ll be gentle.”
“Now, for the folks at home wondering how there can be a King in the Republic, your position is not heredity?”
“No, I was elected King thirteen years ago, for a term of approximately 248 and 1/2 years.”
William held back a chuckle. “That’s the orbital period of Pluto, correct?”
“Are you planning on serving your full term?”
Tobias laughed a deep, resonating laugh. “I would love to. But I’ll probably end up abdicating at some point.”
William frowned. “Why abdicate?”
“It’s better than dying in office.”
William shrugged and took a sip of his beer to concede the point. “Now, how were you elected?”
“Well …” Tobias brought his left hand to his face and he started stroking his beard, “all the colonists were sitting around in the Teat, drinking, and we didn’t have a real government at the time, we just did what needed to be done, which seemed to work just fine. But some idiot said we should form a government.”
“Did they give a reason?”
Resting his elbow on the table, Tobias thought for a few seconds then answered, “I think it had something to do with increasing our chances of getting Republic money for building a new brewery, or something like that.”
Sitting up straight Tobias continued, “So we started going around the room, trying to come up with a form for our government.”
“What kinds of ideas?”
“Oh, we had some elaborate systems, with variations on the Roman Republic to the Catholic Church. We did spend a great deal of time talking about becoming Space Catholics.”
“So, instead of King you would have been the Space Pope?”
“Of course,” William said with a grin.
“But it didn’t work out because of the whole celibacy issue.” Tobias smiled and took a drink of his beer. “That was the deal breaker. Finally we decided on something simple; just a King.”
“I heard originally there wasn’t even going to be an election.”
“No. At first we were just going to draw straws. Then somebody came up with the idea of playing poker; winner take all. But in the end we figured that to make it all nice and legal-like we should hold an election.”
“How many voters did you have?”
“One Hundred and Nineteen.”
“And how many candidates?”
“One Hundred and Nineteen.”
“So everybody ran.”
“Yes, and pretty much everyone voted for themselves.”
“How many votes did you get?”
“You won the Kingship with four votes.”
“That’s right. It was myself, my wife, my son, and a fourth unknown person who put this,” here Tobias tapped the top of his head, “crown on me.”
William pointed with his beer bottle and said, “You’re not wearing a crown.”
Tobias sighed. “I know. They’re so hard to come by these days. You either have to get an antique or have one custom made, and neither’s cheap.”
The view switched back to William standing alone before the window. “The problems of the King of Pluto don’t stop at the finding of an affordable crown. How do you get people to come to this frozen ball of rock and ice? True, there is Tombaugh Station, the local Guard base also used by the Navy. But the thirty-or-so Guardsmen and spacers stationed there aren’t enough to keep the Plutonian economy running by just being here. The question: how can Pluto make money? The answer: beer. Outside of the production of food, oxygen, and clean water which are requirements for all space habitats, beer is the single largest product of Pluto. What beer is brewed on Pluto you ask? Hades Beer: It’s hell on the liver. And I’m not making that up.” William held up a bottle, and the camera zoomed in so the label could be clearly read. Running a finger along the words William read out loud, “‘Hades Beer: It’s hell on the liver.’”
The image returned to normal as he lowered the bottle. “If you’ve never heard of it, that’s not surprising.”
Once more William and Tobias sat at the table. “How much of the beer made on Pluto is consumed on Pluto?”
Tobias lowered his bottle and answered, “Roughly eighty percent.”
“Roughly eighty percent?”
“Well, we’re not always sure how much we make.” Tobias reached out to stop William from asking, and explained, “When most of the people in the brewery and the accountants are drunk, the numbers don’t always add up.”
“But still, roughly eighty percent is consumed here instead of being sold offworld.”
Tobias nodded. “Well, the way we look at it, if we drink most of it, we have to go make more. That’s how we stay in business.”
William looked at the camera and said, “Makes sense.”
“Especially if you drink enough,” Tobias added.
William took a sip of beer, thought for a second, then said, “You’re right. It does make more sense.” After a short chuckle, he asked, “Where does the other roughly twenty percent go?”
“A small percentage goes sunward. Some clients, such as The Lowell Hotel enjoy having a range of drinks from across the solar system. But most of our beer goes out to the Oort Cloud in Naval and Guard vessels.”
“I thought the Human Republic Navy and Guard were dry?”
“They are.” Tobias shrugged, “But that doesn’t mean the spacers are.”
Standing before the window again, William said, “If you think Pluto is home to nothing but drunks, well …” he searched for words for a few seconds before settling on, “well, you’d be right. Here in the outer reaches of the solar system, Pluto is known as the Party Planet: the long dead members of the IAU be damned.
“Now, in case it has been a long time since your high school civics class, Pluto is the Territorial Seat of Kuiper Belt Territory Number One, and the overall seat for all ten Kuiper Belt Territories. Once each year, a representative is sent from each territory to Pluto for the three day Kuiper Belt Territorial Congress. What happens at these Territorial Congresses?” William raised a data pad and read, “Quote, ‘On August 14, 2105, the members of the Thirty-First Kuiper Belt Territorial Congress met. Roll was taken, showing all were present. The members then bitched for about an hour about paying too much in taxes to the Republic. The meeting then adjourned and the remainder of the three day Congress was spent at a kegger.’ Unquote.” Lowering the pad William explained, “That is the official record of last year’s Congress, on record in Parliament. Now, the important thing to note, it is not three Earth days they speak of, but three Plutonian days, each almost a week long.
“What reason is there to have a three week kegger? Why, Demotion Day, of course.”
William leaned across the table and asked Tobias, “Who came up with the idea for Demotion Day?”
“I don’t know. It was something that came up after a night of drinking, so it’s hard to say who thought of it first.”
“And what do you do on Demotion Day?”
William paused for a few seconds, then stated, “But, you do that every day.” This made Tobias laugh so hard the table shook. William picked up his beer bottle before it tipped over, and asked, “What’s special about Demotion Day?”
Tobias calmed down a bit and answered, “We burn the IAU in effigy.”
“How do you burn an organization in effigy?”
“You have to be creative.” For several seconds there was only silence, then Tobias realized that probably was not a clear enough answer. “The first couple of years,” he continued, “we just burned an effigy of Ron Ekers, President of the IAU back in 2006. I’m sure he was a nice guy, but he was President so that makes him fair-game. But after a few years, that became blasé. So we started doing something new each year. One year we burned the IAU charter, another year it was the resolution.”
“What are you burning this year?”
“Don’t know. That’s something we usually just throw together the night before.”
William gave a broad smile, “Why waste quality drinking time with the laying of elaborate plans?”
Tobias thumped his bottle on the table, “Exactly.”
They shared a chuckle, then William asked, “What do you hope to accomplish with this drunken orgy you call Demotion Day, besides getting drunk?”
Tobias placed his hand over his heart and solemnly stated, “My dream is to turn Pluto into the second best party location in the Republic.”
“The second best?”
“Well,” Tobias shrugged, “I don’t think we’ll ever unseat Brothel.”
“No, I guess that is,” William paused and grinned, seemingly not believing he was going to say this, “some stiff competition.”
Tobias’ laugh made the table shake again. “Yes,” he managed to say, “‘stiff competition’ indeed.”
Once more William stood alone before the window. “If you enjoy a good bacchanal, and happen to be in the area, or if you can get here before August 24, stop into The Witch’s Teat to raise a beer to something burning, and shout the official motto of Pluto,” William lifted a beer and said in his normal voice, “F you too.” Lowering his beer he added, “Of course, that is the cleaned up version for television.” He looked at the floor, then away from the camera and took a sip of beer.
The news anchor smiled her perfect smile for a few seconds then said, “I guess it takes all kinds to make the Republic run. Enjoy your evening, and I hope you’ll be back tomorrow.”