The Last Castle (novella)
|Illustrator||Alicia Austin (1980)|
|Publisher||Galaxy Science Fiction|
In the far future, a small elite of humans have returned from Altair to their mother planet to live in nine elaborate, high-tech castles as idle aristocrats. They are primarily concerned with aesthetics, past times and questions of honor and etiquette. Various enslaved alien races provide technical ("Meks"), transportation ("birds", "power wagons"), household ("Peasants"), and amusement ("Phanes") services. Only a small minority of humans live a free life outside of the castles, and are considered barbaric by the castle inhabitants because they perform manual labor to serve their own needs.
After seven centuries of developing an increasingly refined society, the Meks revolt. The inhabitants of some castles without defenses are immediately killed, while the inhabitants of the defended castles consider the revolt only a nuisance. Complacently they consider their high-tech castles unchallengeable. To take action themselves rather than only planning and commanding is seen as a loss of dignity. However, without the Meks, the technology of the castles cannot be maintained. Furthermore, the Meks use their inside knowledge of the operation of the castles to successfully besiege the remaining castles until only Castle Hagedorn is left. While most castle citizens value their traditions and social customs and standing higher than their own survival, one gentleman however, Xanten, takes it upon himself to research the situation and search for allies outside of the castle. He eventually even accepts that he can learn from the "barbaric" free-living outsiders and tribes.
After a short and hard battle, Xanten and his allies win. Concluding that humanity cannot go on depending on slave labor, they send the surviving Meks back to their native planet, Etamin 9 and resolve to produce their needs by their own labor in the future.