Chapters Thirty-six through Forty-two
Chapter Thirty-six, Servant
Over time every civilization founded by the children of the Ancients was absorbed by the Empire. Either they came willingly or they came by coercion, or they were destroyed.
Imperial governance was uncompromising.
The Empire ruled with power and fear, crushing the people, pitting them against one another; class versus class, rank over station.
The people were oppressed at every moment of their lives.
The Empire put stars systems into conflict with one another, and the worlds within a given system at odds with each other. It was planet versus planet, clan versus clan, and family versus family.
The Empire sought to control every aspect of the individual’s life; from how may grains of food they ate in day and their measure of water, down to what they thought.
Everything they did was for the sake of the drama it produced, which ultimately fed the Collective.
The interpersonal dramas comprised of conflict and strife, hope and fear, love and desire, these were the things the Collective craved, the Continuum cultivated, and the Empire delivered, like a sacred offering on a holy altar, consumed in blood and fire.
Every moment of an individual’s life was recorded and preserved for the consumption of the Collective.
The citizens of the Empire knew they were being watched, but they did not know the details or the full extent of the scrutiny they were subject too. Only the Observers knew the scope of the information that was collected, and even then, they did not know the whole of it.
There was no freedom in the Empire, even among those who believed they were free.
Throughout the Empire, dissent of any kind was punished with brutish joy.
The Imperial Police delighted in torture. They developed their cravings for it in the Imperial Schools, where the slightest infractions were punished without mercy, and the record of a person’s transgressions followed them for the whole of their lives.
The Imperial Cult taught the same thing; transcendence through pain, they taught that suffering was purgative and they perfected all of its arts.
Every citizen bore the marks of their upbringing with them, scars inflicted by family, church and school, both the visible and invisible, all of the pain and rage which they were conditioned to suppress.
The extreme emotions produced by the citizens of the Empire were like ambrosia for the Collective, it glossed over the sheer banality of their disembodied state, scenes of their suffering fed the appetites of the Collective and fueled the Continuum.
The Collective would become intoxicated on fear and pain, on remorse, on the dashed hopes and failures of the ordinary citizens. The Continuum used those appetites to control the membership.
In the living fields of the Empire, a charge of dissent was not limited to aberrant behavior, to the things an individual might do or fail to do. The Empire also policed speech, art, and every form of expression was subject to their control.
It claimed to do so for the sake of security, for the safety of the people.
It demanded conformity from the citizens at every level, as if it were orchestrating a great dance throughout the cosmos, with each and every individual playing a vital role.
That is what they taught it in the schools and at the temples, they enforced each person’s obligation through years of indoctrination.
No infraction was too small to go unaddressed.
The imperial conditioning attempted to govern thought as well, but monitoring the thoughts of individuals was a trickier proposition, The Continuum never wanted to reveal the extent to which the people were monitored, but it collected the innermost ideas of each individual through rituals they passed off as magical and supernatural.
For the average citizen, living under the heel of the Imperial police was a constant struggle, they had to perform their daily duties with a sublime degree of mindfulness and pass their days without drawing the attention of the patrols.
The schools they attended and their houses of worship inured them to it. The lessons they were given, taught them to accept their suffering as a part of the natural order, as links in the great chain of being, a chain which the inextricably were bound by, belonged to.
The way of life was to go unnoticed, to blend in, to repress everything; these were the keys to survival.
A family might cultivate these skills and live unremarkable lives for generations, only to be cast down by the powers that be, for the sheer pleasure of it.
A random patrol might decide of its own volition to focus its attention on a person or family, and once they did the Collective would delight in watching them crumble.
The state would take everything, up to and including their lives.
It might be a random event, or it could emanate from the Continuum issuing a directive, passing it down through the hierarchy to exploit a narrative it believed the Collective would enjoy.
The people who suffered under these pogroms were taught to interpret all such events as karma, either the fulfillment of a cosmic and spiritual debt, or payment in advance for an indulgence they might receive in the next life.
Everything was transactional, including the spirituality of the Imperial Cult.
The Imperial Schools and the Temple both taught the people that every action they committed and every word they spoke mattered. The value of their words and deeds was recorded and they would be punished or rewarded, either in this life or the next for the things they said and did.
There was no mercy.
Apart from the upper classes: the nobility, the religious orders and the military, the lives of ordinary people throughout the empire were sorrowful, trillions of people, on millions of worlds suffered.
They were depressed.
The military orders made up barely ten percent of the population, and the religious orders barely one.
Among the ordinary people there were high level bureaucrats and merchants who lived lives of comfort, and this gave them some ease, but the highest of them were viewed as lesser beings, lower than the lowest soldier.
The classes were fixed.
Most were angry, without hope, desperate and alone.
Even those in the upper hierarchies spent their days filled with dread, competing for place and prestige, searching for the esteem of their superiors and always uncertain of when they might be called upon to sacrifice, or called upon to pay a karmic debt that some distant ancestor had incurred.
Competition among them was vicious.
The only group of people who reflected an image of peace, were those at the very bottom of the caste system, those who had nothing to lose, who had no hope of changing their station in this life, those without class or caste…the outcaste and the untouchable.
For all of the wonders of the Empire, for all of its technological marvels, and the physical beauty of the people, the pal of death hung over the entire civilization.
It was the end that each and every person looked forward to, death, the hope that in the next life they would have been able to advance to a place they were not able to reach in the course of their current life. They hoped for justice, for a redress to their suffering in the next world, believing that it was impossible to have satisfaction in this one.
El was a media darling, before he developed a conscience.
Even in his youth, when he was a part of the rebellion and a terrorist, the press loved him and loved covering him.
Of course they vilified him, but only because they had to. It was in the script.
El was the enemy, but the people were fascinated by him, they followed his every move, and not just the people of his home planet, his story was covered throughout the Empire.
His daring and his heroism drove ratings.
The Continuum had its own interest in his story, carefully managing it and the Collective loved the narratives that sprang from his life.
In his youth El’s motivation was anger not altruism. He manifested a hatred for the Empire, for its schools, for the Imperial Cult, a hatred he carried deep in his heart.
He had no desire to save anyone from anything, he only preserved people insofar as it met his starkly utilitarian view of his mission and his destiny.
He was uncompromising.
He needed soldiers, he needed people who would die for his cause, and the cause was to destroy.
In his youth El was fighting for himself, against himself, and he was a brilliant tactician.
The Continuum plotted his Demise.
The Empire would not destroy his rebellion with military might, it could have. Instead, the Continuum introduced a romantic interest to do the work, a woman he could not ignore.
As he learned to love, he turned his attention to the plight of the people.
This was his undoing.
He became a hostage to compassion.
The Imperial Powers built him up, they reveled in his celebrity. They broadcast his story in every corner of the Empire.
He was the ultimate propaganda tool; the brilliant rebel, the unfailing hero, the victor of a thousand engagements, the man who could endure anything.
He did endure everything.
They took their time with him, and charted the limits of human suffering. Then they took him down, crushing him absolutely.
He became a sacrifice for the Empire, his blood on the altar of the state, a burnt offering, a holocaust, he was the the sacred victim.
The things he suffered went beyond physical pain.
They drove him to the brink of madness.
They put the people he loved the most into the grinder ahead of him, forcing him to watch while the machinery of the torture chambers reduced them to bloody-ruin.
He would not betray them, and in turn he was betrayed by each of them.
The people loved him for it.
The prayers of the faithful in every temple throughout the Empire resounded with calls to free him or kill him, to bring an end to his suffering.
The Temples echoed with his name, day and night, he was the victurstar.
In that moment, the moment when he lost everything, when he was forced to watch the Imperial torturers grinding the life from the few people he held dear, it was only then that he began to doubt his commitment to his ideals.
He felt a deep sense of shame for having brought so many loyal people to death and misery.
What had he been fighting for if not for them?
In that transcendent moment he questioned everything.
He understood that the revolutionary quest he and his people had been on was always destined to fail, all of his victories in battle were nothing more than vanities.
As they lit his flesh on fire and his body began to burn, he did not give into pain but he relented, he saw the errors of the path he had taken, and he silently begged for forgiveness.
The Continuum perceived his thoughts, reading his body language and the movement of his lips.
The Continuum knew everything.
It transmitted everything that was transpiring directly into the Collective, where the majority of the members were absorbed with his narrative, his story had been the most engrossing that any of them had witnessed in ages.
The Empire broadcast the execution as a live stream throughout the million worlds.
Time itself seemed to stop as the rebel leader’s body burned in a splendid fountain of light and color.
The medical examiners came in to look at the charred remains, to examine them and confirm his death, and then a miracle happened.
The Continuum restored the rebel to life, putting a doppleganger in place of the desiccated husk, the type of body used by the Observers, only modified and enhanced, it wanted him to remain in service, as an idol, as a superstar for the ages.
And the Continuum wanted something more, a host to carry his consciousness through the experiential fields of the living.
Chapter Thirty-seven, Bureaucrat
El became an icon of hope for the ordinary citizen.
His was an example of a life rewarded after an ordeal of incredible suffering.
He was a symbol of re-birth, of clemency and mercy.
His former compatriots in the rebel movements were stunned by the turnaround, bewildered by his supernatural return.
Some called the whole drama a charade and renewed their commitment to fight against the Empire, others, in the spirit of hope, gave up their rebellion, desiring to follow the man who had been their greatest leader wherever he went.
He was the gatekeeper.
Wherever he went, the people experienced his presence as nourishing, it sustained them.
The Continuum followed every story-line coming from El’s reincarnation, passing on the drama and excitement of the sudden shifts in alignment, allegiance and circumstance to the Collective.
Rebellion would never go away.
The Continuum had no desire to crush it, and therefore the Empire had to allow it to persist, despite the fact that they had the power and the technological sophistication to root it out.
The narrative of revolution remained as riveting as ever for its primary audience.
New stories emerged, the stories of rebel soldiers, rebel families and rebel clans, turning piously toward the Empire, seeking forgiveness in the hope that they too could be forgiven and reborn, but they were not always welcomed, not always forgiven, they suffered at the hands of their persecutors, just as their leader had before them.
El’s was celebrated by the Empire, and the Collective. He was elevated to the position of a bureaucrat, given a purpose, in keeping with the ideology of being that was promulgated through the Imperials Schools and the Imperial Cult.
Even though he was just a desk jockey, his daily life was viewed by his adoring fans with fascination.
His comportment was flawless.
El fulfilled the expectations of his station with immaculate precision, moving from the lowest order, into a position of authority.
He was beset with challenges, each one a test of his poise and wisdom.
His rise in the bureaucracy was not free from conflict.
He encountered many people who saw him as a threat to their place in the hierarchy. His immediate supervisors chaffed, both at his abilities and in the favors he received from the people they themselves reported to.
He could not be promoted without climbing over them, which meant that they could not advance while he worked under their supervision, their own careers would be stagnant.
To the mid-level bureaucrats, his presence was a source of fear and concern, they could not feel secure or safe in their position with him in proximity to them,
His supervisors took one of two approaches, they either tried to swamp him with work and sabotage his standing or they quickly learned the trick of complicity and promoted him.
El was far too aware for their efforts at sabotage to work, and he was tireless.
He seemed to be able to learn any task instantly, and then excel at it.
On reflection he knew that his return to life had changed him. He had always been bright, an exceptional student, but in his new state of being he seemed to possess abilities that bordered on the mystical.
He would not leave his desk until he had it cleared. Sometimes staying in his office for days at a time.
He thought nothing of benefitting from it for himself, he tried his best to hide his skills in a cloak of pious humility..
He had no life to return to, no family, everyone he had ever loved was dead. His quarters were just a place to sleep and eat. He had no connection to anything but his present state.
When he gave in to the Empire, he gave in completely, hold nothing in reserve for himself.
He was their servant.
He would do whatever was asked of him.
He found a kind of peace in that, and a sense of belonging.
From doorman to receptionist, from receptionist to stenographer, his celebrity put him in demand.
El was just a pencil-pusher, but everyone wanted to be seen with him, to emulate him.
Bringing him into an office meant exposure and fame for the bosses around him.
Some of those who sought to benefit from their association with him saw their star rise on account of that relationship, others were cast down, sometimes catastrophically.
There was no discernable pattern.
He rose up through the hierarchy with mindfulness, carrying with him the lessons he learned from his years in the rebellion, and the years of torture in prison that followed.
Trust no-one, suspect everything, be diligent above all else.
His thoroughness and attention to detail saved him time and time again, it revealed who in his circle was genuinely trying to help him, and which of them were looking toward his downfall.
In his capacity as a stenographer he learned the tiniest details of government. He took memos, he recoded meetings, he was a witness to the bureaucracy on a level that sometimes left him with feelings of vertigo.
The Empire was vast, both in terms of the space it occupied and the minutia that governed it,
The macro-verse and the micro-verse, he was comfortable in both.
Everyone serving in the bureaucracy underwent periodic reviews. Merits and demerits flowed from there, along with bonuses and penalties, raises and promotions.
Without fail, when his yearly review came, he was raised up, given more responsibility, more accountability and more freedom.
He relished it.
He had no thought of using those things for his own benefit, he only desired the accolades, the recognition of his achievements.
El took pride in his accomplishments, even as a file-clerk.
He used the resources he acquired to make a difference in the lives of his neighbors. He let his advantages flow from himself to others, keeping very little for himself.
The small steps he had taken away from the street made a vast difference in his lifestyle. He had access to new foods, fresh foods and even intoxicants.
The work he put into advancing his place in the world began to take the shape of altruism.
His success mattered to himself and those who lived in closest proximity to him.
He continued to look beyond his station, toward a life of ease and comfort.
He was offered the hand of dozens of girls in marriage, girls from families he had helped, who wanted to tie their fate to his.
He had already watched the only woman he had ever loved be tortured to death, and he did not want to love any other.
He refused them.
He did not accept their offers, but he was often tempted to take advantage of his status, to fall into the delights of the flesh.
He forewent the offers of romantic entanglement that came to him from the women in his work place, or his tenement, preferring to keep his eyes focused on the next opportunity for advancement.
He exercised his sexual proclivities lawfully, with women who were professionals in the trade.
The Empire required and relied on bureaucratic controls. It governed the movement and aspirations of trillions of people through their manipulation. It managed every aspect of the lives of the people, slowing some down while creating lanes of opportunity for others.
The Empire established paths of predictability for the vast majority of its citizens, and used the byzantine structures of the bureaucracy to exercise its capriciousness as it desired.
The Empire utilized monitoring at every conceivable level of the social order. It monitored the movements and behaviors of its citizens for economic purposes, for security purposes, for historical and religious purposes.
It monitored their behaviors on levels that few people outside of the Collective suspected, because it monitored them for the benefit of the Collective and the Continuum alone.
There was no such thing as privacy in the Empire.
Every citizen was the property of the state. Their entire lives were meant to be organized as a gift, as offerings to the Gods, this is what they learned in school, and that is what was beat into them through the ritual conditioning of the Imperial Cult.
The individual person was merely a link in the great chain of being.
In time he rose to a position in which he reported and analyzed a wide range of human activities and behaviors, especially among those rebel groups that he had once been a member of.
He became aware of how futile his life had been.
The Empire knew everything, had always known everything about him.
He had only ever been a blip on their list of concerns, and he had sacrificed everything and everyone he loved, to serve his vain pretensions.
His duties were to observe, report and ensure that the work of government was carried out efficiently.
It was Quality Assurance, and he was an overseer.
The Empire provided service to a million worlds.
There was food distribution, medicine, the military, the Imperial Schools, and more important than any other institution, the Imperial Cult to attend to.
At no time did he ever drop his diligent attention to detail, not for a moment.
El oversaw the complex allocation of material resources designated as gifts to the gods. This was a process without end, an unceasing harvest of energy, of ore and silicates sent in vessels piloted by AI to the Central Planet, to the home of the Gods, the home of the Continuum and the Collective.
He was tireless, when he was in the flow of the work he experienced a sense of transcendence.
His life was completely bent on fulfilling every policy, to the letter.
In his former life he cared for the miners and the planet harvesters, people who lived their entire working lives in space, crushing asteroids, breaking up planets and their satellites, smelting ore and separating the elements.
They lived short lives, they were prisoners and outcasts coming from every station.
Now El spent their lives as easily as he would spend credits on his dinner. He let go of all his former closely held morality, a sense of right and wrong which had propelled him into his life as a revolutionary
He abandoned it in service to the Empire.
He became a living reminder to his peers regarding the necessity of protocol.
He was a supervisor, in time he became a chief administrator.
His tenure in the bureaucracy had spanned a length of time that seemed impossible, spending years at every position while advancing through the circuit of offices.
He was not a young man when he was restored to life by the miracle of the Continuum.
He was an Octogenarian now, though, he appeared to be a man in his prime.
Those who had been following his career began to realize that he was extremely old compared to the average citizen.
The average citizen who followed his life story had been living with it for most, if not all of their lives, and his story was still fascinating to them.
He was a paragon of virtue.
He had made a personal spiritual journey that was marked by the stations in society that he had transited, going outcast and rebel, from condemned prisoner to the highest places in the Imperial Administration.
This was noted as more than a curiosity by other administrators at his level, and though he was universally admired, he was also the subject of vicious jealousy
He had made a journey in the space of one lifetime (perhaps two), that the Imperial Cult taught the people it would take hundreds of lives and reincarnations to complete.
When there was no place left for him to ascend to, the Empire ordered him to be drafted into military service, marking a second change in his caste and station.
It was another miracle for the people to behold.
Chapter Thirty-eight, General
In the post of an agency chief El enjoyed a life of luxury well beyond the grasp of the ordinary plebian, and though the demands on his time had lessened, he filled his days with attention to duty, examining and reexamining the reports he was fed from those beneath him in the administration.
He was old, though he did not feel it, and he thought this would be the pattern for the rest of his life.
He believed that he had finally arrived at a place where he could use his influence, and management to improve the lives of the people; there food supply, their access to clean water, and medicine, leisure time and rest.
El was transforming the world he managed into a haven of tranquility.
He was wrong.
In his tenth year as Planetary Secretary, he received orders to report to a military entrance processing station. The Empire ordered him to service, taking away his hope for a better world.
His people reacted with a mixture of dismay and veneration.
He did not balk, or look back.
He resigned his office without fanfare or ceremony.
He had no family to say goodbye to.
He was ninety years old.
He became a foot soldier, entering a new way of life.
He received the blessing of the Temple, and once again his elevation to a higher class and different caste was met with awe by the audience who followed his story.
Then he went to war.
He served in the infantry with distinction. El was a brilliant combat engineer, as fearless as he was tireless.
He risked everything for his comrades, putting their safety and security above his own, falling back on the instinct and experience that had made him the greatest rebel commander in memory. Now he turned his guns on rebels throughout the Empire. He was relentless when called to be, and merciful when he could be. After one year in combat they pulled him off the line, the Collective loved his heroism, but feared for his life. They did not want to see him lose it in hand to hand combat.
El was a shining star, but displayed too much gallantry. This put him at odds with his fellows, it unnerved the Collective.
There were too many moments in which he hesitated in combat, giving his opponent a chance to surrender before the kill.
Those watching him often experienced these moments as judgement on them.
He volunteered for every mission. Sometimes entering two or three engagements in a single week.
When he was wounded he went to hospital, got sewn up and returned the next day for duty.
His life was now the armed forces.
As old as he was, he looked forward to ending it there.
El pursed his duties like he had in the bureaucracy. He was single minded and focused, determined to set an example for everyone he served with, to his commanders and to all of the people he knew were watching his life through the Imperial networks.
He believed that his life had been spared for a reason, and he had been blessed with longevity so that he could fulfill it.
If the Gods wanted him dead they would take him. If they wanted him alive they would spare him.
He thought nothing of it.
When the command pulled him off the line, they raised him in rank and made him a yeoman.
This was a bitter disappointment to El.
El’s former life in the bureaucracy could not be considered as real experience or earn him a promotion as a yeoman because it was experience from a lower caste, it meant nothing to the military command.
Nevertheless, serving in the bureaucracy prepared him for the work in front of him, and he came to it as a celebrated war hero, decorated and wildly popular with the media, he was able to implement processes that streamlined the way records were kept, transferred, accessed and compiled.
El had reveled in the exploits of the infantry, the comradeship, but he did not resent the break or the rest. He had not enjoyed the killing, or watching his fellows die.
His audience, both in the Empire and in the Collective, grew tired of watching him shuffle papers again. Having seen him as a soldier and a hero, the Collective was not satisfied with his return to normalcy, and the Continuum was eager to push his experience and the narrative it produced to new places.
They wanted more from him.
He went back to wars as a medic, the most dangerous of all professions in the military.
He studied for it.
He trained with the same zeal he brought to all of his endeavors.
He took his oath, dedicating himself to the preservation of life. He took it seriously, and he risked his own life time and time again, suffering serious injuries to recover the fallen, whether they were soldiers of the Empire, or rebels.
Everyone was a citizen he told himself, belonging together as conjoined links in the great chain of being, and he was there for them, for each of them. Like himself, every rebel had a story to tell and every one of them could be redeemed.
As a rebel, and a soldier he had mastered his feelings of fear. He set fear aside and treated it like a curiosity. Fear was nothing more than an itch in the mind, it was a tickle that could easily be ignored.
While a prisoner under torture fear vanished from him altogether. Even pain became an experience that measured as near to nothing. Only life mattered, the preservation of it, the risking of it, or the elimination of it, whatever was called for in the moment.
He answered the call of duty dispassionately.
As a medic El never shrank from danger. He ran to the aid of the fallen, crawling to them if he had to. He did whatever he could while his limbs could propel him.
He was a paragon of virtue.
His audience loved him, they worshipped his willingness to sacrifice himself for the sake of his comrades.
The command rewarded him time and time again, holding him in the highest esteem, and they continued to decorate him, engagement after engagement, wound after wound.
It propelled him to glory, but it also awakened him to the suffering of others.
He did not shrink from opportunities to be merciful to the enemy.
This set a poor example in the minds of his superiors, but the Collective loved it.
After he had completed a thousand missions, and Continuum was satisfied that they had squeezed every last thing out of his current story ark. They promoted him to the rank of officer, gave him a commission as a member of the cavalry.
He returned once again to training, learning the complex controls of the war machines, he became a pilot.
In the cavalry El mastered every type of combat craft; land, sea, air and space. It was another long period of arduous training. He spent years of his life learning all the technical details of the equipment he operated, their munitions, how to repair them, maneuver them and use them for deadly effect.
He became a weapons master of the first order, an Equestrian, a knight.
His experience as a master of cavalry combined with his years of experience in the infantry; both as a combat engineer and as a medic, made him the most highly trained member of the armed forces there had ever been.
The ease with which he learned the controls, and the rapidity in which his skills developed into something like artistry was shocking to his trainers, they had never seen anything like it before.
Their observations substantiated the myths that were constantly perpetuated about him.
People believed he was descended from the gods, a child of the gods, the believed that he had come back to the Empire from the Continuum, to live with them, to observe them, to share their pain.
His comrades worshipped him like a god as well, whether they believed in his divinity or not. They wanted nothing more than to fly missions with him and watch him fight.
El loved flying, being at the controls of the greatest vehicles that had ever been constructed.
He loved flying in the quiet of space, he loved to watch the silent explosion of energy weapons and the quick fires bursting from breached hulls in the vacuum of space, he loved the beauty of the bright lights and flashing colors.
Those moments were freeing, they gave him pause to contemplate his extraordinarily long-life.
He retired from combat as the Empires greatest Ace; living or dead.
He had been deployed in countless engagements, on thousands of worlds.
He was a suppressor of conflict.
His heroic image was brighter than a star going nova.
Rebel squadrons would surrender when they knew he was in the field.
He was a harbinger of victory.
Cults of worship formed around him.
Even past the age of one hundred years, he maintained the strength and vigor of a man in his prime. This was interpreted as evidence of his divinity.
Many of his superiors were jealous, and some of his contemporaries as well. The jealous wanted to eliminate him, which was a part of the reason he saw so much combat.
The conservatives simply wanted to return him to the bureaucracy, to take the limelight away from him and groom him for command
They pulled El from combat and made him an aide de camp.
They told him that with his experience, in this new position he would be able to actualize the full range of his talents in service to the Empire.
While this was less entertaining for the Collective, the Continuum saw the potential for an even greater narrative to manifest itself through the exploitation of his unique position.
Together they were creating the greatest single story the Collective had ever absorbed, and it was the only narrative running that could compete for the attention of the membership with the drama and intrigue that flowed from the planet Earth.
When El was elevated to the Imperial Command, the whispering about him among the worlds of the Empire became harder to ignore. People began to truly believe the rumors that he was of the Continuum, that he was a divine being, an angelic messenger, a scion of the gods, those rumors became more and more concretized in the minds of the people, until they became an actual part of his narrative.
His promotion to Field Marshall precipitated chaos in the Imperial Cult, in the centers of command, and in the royal court.
El thought nothing of those whispers, he acted as if he could not hear them.
He followed orders.
When he was in command, he followed protocol.
In everything he did he allowed himself to be governed by others.
He accepted his position in life, rising to the challenges set before him.
It was as if he were a party to his life, merely an observer of it.
As a general he became the greatest peacemaker the Empire had ever seen.
He resolved conflicts merely by showing up.
Abuses of power, matters that had been routine in the years before he took command of the Imperial Armies, they all but disappeared.
He was temperate.
He was just.
And his story began to lose its luster.
Chapter Thirty-nine, Priest
El had been an outsider since the moment he rejected the Empire and entered the rebellion.
The general staff was elated when they were informed that he was ordered to leave military service and enter the priest hood. Regardless of the fact that this was yet again, another transcendent movement for him between the castes.
They had spent their entire lives in his orbit, and they were eager to be free of him.
The Imperial Cult reached down and pulled him up.
It was another unprecedented event for the entire Empire to celebrate; his rise from the status of a rebel and outcast, to the most exalted class of being; a Priest of the Imperium.
El’s followers throughout the Empire grew by an order of magnitude.
Once again, he started on the lowest rung of the religious orders.
He was an oblate.
He was given the mark of humility, tonsured as any beginner would be.
In his new position, he had more rank than all of the generals with whom he had formerly served, though less power.
His home planet became a place of pilgrimage
And though he had experienced a life of opulence as a Field Marshall and as a chief administrator, the world that the priestly caste dwelt in was different by an order of magnitude.
The luxuries were understated, they were simple, even for the priest at the lowest level, there was not even a hint of want or need.
It was required that he take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
These vows were virtually meaningless in the context of the wealth he was surrounded by and had access to, regardless of whether he owned that wealth or not.
Simple and abundant, food and drink were everywhere, the finest of everything.
Every novice was required to take the vows, but depending on the track they were on the vows were not necessarily for life.
After the age of maturity, after their time of training and education, after a period of service as an acolyte most members of the priestly caste would return to their home worlds to support their families and their dynastic ambitions.
Some would remain in service, a few others would join the austere contemplative societies where they would continue to live selflessly in service to the Continuum and the Collective which they aspired to
El entered the sacred order without any thought for himself or his future.
He had no family to return to. He was alone, independent, with no thought whatsoever of his safety or security in his new role as a priest.
He accepted it like he had accepted everything he had been asked to do since his resurrection.
El was initiated into the mysteries and his eyes were opened.
He became, once again, a servant. It was a position of familiarity and comfort.El preferred the regulated life.
He was the oldest novice ever to be tonsured.
He was wise and he was quiescent. He facilitated rather than competing with the ambitions of his peers.
As with every other aspect of Imperial life, the priesthood was divided, first by gender, and then into classes.
There was no escaping these divisions.
Men and women each had their province of control and influence, and yet women were always subject to men.
There were two basic divisions within the priesthood. There were the officiants of the sacred rites, and there were the holy orders, forming the service societies and contemplative sects.
As with every other strata of the Empire, whoever you were, wherever you went, you knew your rank, and you were bound by protocol in relation to it.
Every member of the priestly class had some choice as to what path they wanted to pursue, though in reality most people were governed by the needs and desires of their families.
The vast majority of priestly power resided in its bureaucracy, the management of its land holdings and the officiation of the temple rites, to which every citizen of the Empire was bound.
When faced with the choice of which path he wanted his career to follow, El went deep, as was characteristic of him. He became a brother and followed the contemplative sects into the paths of mystery, austerity, and aesthetics.
He wanted to do more than officiate rituals or manage a temple, he wanted to discover the meaning of existence.
He felt that at long last he would find a place of peace where he could age, and end his days in quiet.
He was always a conformist at heart. That was the secret to his success in leadership, though he did not know it.
Leaders conform to the expectations of their followers, they are shaped by them, their ability to represent those expectations is why they are trusted.
We find among the greatest leaders those who have the most felt need to belong.
From his youth in the rebellion, during his years in the resistance pursuing his quest for justice; El was obedient, a follower, not always of people but to the multitudes and their ideals.
He had been the unparalleled leader. His commitment to deliver what the people desired and expected of him, what they expected of the Empire, and of the faith, this drove people to him.
He was a follower of ideals. He did not give the people a voice, he was their voice.
When he spoke from the heart, it resonated in theirs, because their feelings and desires were one and the same.
In relation to his principles he was relentless, unquestioning. His ideals were like pillars made of diamond, as clear as daylight and as solid as foundation of a world.
He never wavered, and that is why he succeeded when he was returned to life, when he ended his rebellion and went into service for the Empire.
The role he played was different, it was different on an order of magnitude, but he followed it with the same simple conviction.
El believed in his heart that the fate of the people, of trillions of people rested on the proper function of government, and that peace and prosperity would follow for everyone if each and every person obeyed its dictates.
Then he met a woman, a Sister and he fell in love.
While he would have preferred to remain in the holy orders of the contemplatives, that was an impossibility.
His following stretched across the million worlds of the Empire. The people clamored for news of him, in its absence they wove stories and legends of their own.
After years of servitude and study, he was initiated into the mysteries, and ordained into the order of the priesthood.
He became an officiant of the sacred rites.
The temples he served in were overflowing with people, people who would spend years on pilgrimages to receive his blessing.
El was held in the highest esteem by his colleagues, all of whom were eager to trade on his fame.
Every day he carefully reenacted the rituals and repeated the sacred chants, which the people were taught would carry them to eternal life. He reenacted the rituals for himself and on behalf of others who believed that they would open the gates of the Continuum to their dead and dying loved ones.
The Imperial Cult sent him on his own pilgrimage, he visited thousands of worlds.
El handpicked the coterie who attended him.
The loving sister went with him everywhere he travelled.
They stole time together in the quiet moments of the evening, in the deep of space, on the trek between worlds. He told her stories of his youth, and the rebellion, of his service as a soldier, of the sacred moment when he had been returned to life.
Her name was Imogene, she was from an exalted family, jaded and skeptical of all the sacred rites, as most of the priestly class were, but she was not skeptical about him.
They were passionate for each other, they were loving and kind.
His affair with the Sister was illicit, but he loved her, and she loved him.
When he looked at her he could not tell the difference from the one woman he had loved more than any other, his rebel wife, a hundred years past, she was her twin, separated only by time and distance, class and caste.
Imogene never cared a bit for the rules that bound her ancient house. Like most members of the ruling families in the priestly caste, she was a nihilist.
While he cared only for her.
They had both sworn vows of chastity, vows which she believed were meaningless long before she took them, knowing they were not binding, having been given proof of that when she was seduced by the officiant who presided over her initiation.
Such vows, as far as she was concerned, were for appearances only, and were only meant to be a tool for the governance of those on the lower rungs of the social order.
A death sentence could be served for such violations of the rites. Those few people who had been convicted of those crimes were actually being punished for other reasons, for political concerns.
As a novice she celebrated such executions with carnal delights, reveling in the slaughter of illicit lovers.
His willingness to break those vows, and the anguish it caused him, captivated his audience in the Collective.
It was out of character, it was unpredictable. There was a great potential risk to both him and her.
The Continuum ensured it would continue.
His followers multiplied.
With the blessing of the Collective, and by the favor of Continuum, he had advanced in rank among the religious orders, and in the hierarchy of the priesthood.
He had advanced despite his carnal crimes or because of them, he would never know.
It was a favorable development in the narrative of his life.
As far as the Collective was concerned, during his time in the priesthood his story had begun to tire, this was not dissimilar to his tenure as an administrator when he served in the armed forces.
Now in the context of his romance, thousands of intriguing dramas sprang up in relation to him.
Throughout the Empire millions of El’s followers took to extremes to demonstrate their love, and faith in him.
Planetary rebellion sprang to an all new high since the time he left military service, and now Revolutionary movements were being carried out in his name, and rebel forces now included former members of the military caste who wanted to see him elevated to the Imperial throne.
The details of these conflicts were not reported to him, he was aware of them and did what he could from his position in the priesthood to quell those conflicts, but he was no longer a general and therefore his influence was limited..
He was a monk and a priest and he was in love, engaged with a member of a royal house in a passionate affair.
He did not want to be bothered with the responsibility to resolve those conflicts.
His thoughts were only for Imogene.
The Continuum loved the intrigue of his cover-ups.
They made him a bishop, and overseer of the flock, and then a Cardinal, in order to free his time, to give him the space to develop his relationship and sink deeper into his desires.
The masses, knowing nothing of his transgressions, adored him even more.
They made him Abba, the head of the most exalted religious order, the most secretive and the most influential, they positioned him as the head of the Imperial Temple, answerable only to the Emperor himself.
El was fully actualized, he had become the most powerful figure in the Empire that the Empire had ever known.
Chapter Forty, Faith
El was born into a family of plebians, free citizens, but in reality they were servants of the Empire, as every citizen was, he was born in full-bondage to the Continuum.
They relied on the Continuum for everything, down to their food and water; every grain, every drop, every fiber of protein.
El seemed to be an ordinary person, one among trillions whose lives were nothing special, not of note, they worked, went to school, worshipped and raised families.
He was a natural born empath, a capacity that had been engineered into his genetic line covertly by Jim’s agents that were spread throughout the Empire, and he was the first in his line to manifest the ability.
El was a mutant, but his mutation was so subtle that it went unregistered. Until the Continuum discovered it when it examined his genetic profile in advance of his planned resurrection.
El could not tolerate injustice.
He felt the suffering of everyone around him, it hung on his neck like a stone.
He wanted nothing more than to give hope to the hopeless and to free the despairing from despair.
Even as a child El found ways to rebel, to question the teachings of the Imperial Cult, the indoctrination of the Imperial Schools, the entire structure of the social order.
As an adult, he took up arms against the Empire, he fought the enemy wherever he could.
He became an outcast, a criminal. His entire family was destroyed, and for his gallantry the Continuum made him a star.
Then he was co-opted by it, executed and returned to life.
It was a miracle for the masses.
When he returned to life he entered service as a bureaucrat, he served as a soldier, and finally as a priest.
He made his vows, and he entered the holy orders.
Of all the transitions he had made in his long sojourn, this was the first one that he questioned.
It did not feel natural or honest, the priestly class lived in a state of being that he never imagined when he was a child, where he and his family lived lives of dismal-drudgery, as his family had done for countless generations, without any sense of safety or security.
Even the lowest order of priestly professions, in the lowest ranking priestly houses, lived exalted lives. The technologies available to them were like magic.
Nevertheless, he had a duty to perform.
He ignored his reservations, and he immersed himself in the priesthood
He studied, He absorbed the dogmas.
He memorized everything, which was not difficult for him.
His knowledge expanded, exponentially. The history of the Empire was exposed through the holy texts, as much of the real history as was possible.
He absorbed all of the sacred tracts, all the way back to the first contact that the Empire had with the Continuum.
It fascinated him, and it struck him cold.
The Continuum appeared to be less than divine, and more like an alien civilization.
The entire Empire was enslaved to it, sending vast tributes in minerals and technology to the Central System, which he learned was the physical location of the Continuum.
It brought him back to the sentiments he had as a youth, in the rebellion.
The people thought of the planets of the Central System as the heavenly worlds, but they were not, they had a location in time and space.
Deep feelings were stirring inside him. Feelings he had not experienced since he had been resurrected.
He became aware of the reality of the Collective, as a force of consciousness behind the Continuum, and that truth set him free.
In his heart he was always a rebel.
He took all of the rituals seriously, as he did everything during his career. Though he often felt as he was performing them, another present alongside his, hiding in the ganglia of his consciousness, something predatory.
El carried out the rituals perfectly even though his studies revealed that the rites were merely tools of control and division.
He fulfilled them with grace and a studied presence that gave no indication of the fact that he knew the rituals and rites were empty gestures, and meaningless incantations.
The comfort that he had with his body, developed through his long years of martial discipline, gave his performances a nuance that his peers were unable to match.
Once again he stood out from those around him, not only because of the attention that was focused on him, but for what he brought to each moment.
While El no longer believed in the mysteries as they had been taught to him, he understood that the cohesion of the Empire, the peace of a million worlds, there sense of belonging to a greater whole, relied on them for everything.
While the imperial families, the royal powers, the priestly caste and the war machine cared nothing at all for justice, intrinsically viewing any person below them in rank as a thing to be used, a device or a tool; justice, if it was to be had, had to be distributed from the top.
He performed the rites with that in mind. He bound people to the commitments expressed in them in ways that had never been seen before.
When members of the Imperial family came to the table, drawn by his fame, he extracted promises from them in the sacred space, which they could not then refuse fulfill.
In the place where his life was most regimented, he found the freedom to return to his old self.
Like every other strata of Imperial society, the priestly caste was organized according to rank. The major divisions in the priestly caste were between the ruling houses and the minor officiants, between the parish priests and the holy orders.
This differentiation was not unlike the differentiation between managers and staff in the bureaucracy, or between the rank and file and the command in the military.
The unseen difference, a difference unknown outside the select circle, was the society of Observers, those members of the Continuum who had opted to live out a period of their lives in time and space, observing the day to day realities of the Empire, on behalf of the Collective and its Continuum.
The Observers were scattered throughout the Empire, holding posts in every strata of society, most Observers preferred to carry out their mission from the vantage of the priestly caste and from the comfort of the royal houses. Nothing was hidden from them, because they knew the full truth concerning the origins of the Empire, of the Continuum, of its promises and its lies.
Many of the Observers were eager to interact with the hero/priest the guardian of the faithful, they wanted to be part of the great narrative that had gripped the imagination of the Collective. It was a great sense of esteem for them.
He was indoctrinated into the deepest mysteries of the Imperium. The Observers shared things with him that were forbidden.
He discovered the mechanism of salvation, the translation of consciousness into the quantum field of the HomeWorld, which brought membership in the Collective and eternal life in the Continuum.
He learned that the Imperial rites meant nothing, they were based on lies, merely minor dramas perpetuated as a means of controlling the people; controlling them through hope, and fear, through love and hate, the most powerful emotions which were the only meaningful controls, they were controls which never failed, controls that surpassed even thirst and hunger and pain.
His life was filled with contradictions, he had never before been so conflicted, or filled with doubt.
He spent his days promoting the beliefs and traditions and the rituals of the Imperial Cult. He was the most eloquent spokesperson the masses had ever witnessed.
He reached them, and they loved it for him.
He spoke with power and confidence, elegantly articulating the complex narratives that glued the Imperial society together, while at the same time providing the rationale and justification for each citizen to remain in their caste, in their class, in their state of bondage.
He was a living exemplar of the faith, perfectly demonstrating to every citizen, even to the outcast, the possibility of elevating themselves from their station, through fidelity, duty, and adherence to the law.
He taught as he had been instructed to teach, that this was the path to transcendence.
He knew it for a lie, there was no transcendence.
El learned that the promises concerning reincarnation and the Continuum, all of those promises that had been made to the people were built on lies, the most pernicious kind of lies, a vast complex of falsehoods, predicated on the narrowest sliver of truth.
He did his duty.
He perpetuated the lies anyway.
The powers that held him in check did not do so with the threat of coercion. Everyone he had ever known or loved while he was an ordinary man, they were long since dead and buried.
His family had been erased.
They did not have that leverage over him.
They held him in check with the power of love, the promise of fulfilling his desires, the mystery of beauty and the touch of a woman.
He learned to differentiate between the articles of faith he was expected to promote, to present as his own belief in the orthodoxy of the Imperial Cult, and the convictions he held in heart, the things he knew were true.
He dreamt of waging war against the gods.
He exercised the greatest care concerning the manner in which he expressed himself. There was no privacy, he knew that he was under observation at all times, even in the inner most sanctum of his private dwelling.
El felt as if his own thoughts were being monitored, by a hidden presence within him.
He held enormous power.
A casual comment from him could change the fate of a planet.
What he held in his heart, was never the same thing as what he could give voice to.
His survival, and the lives of billions upon billions of people depended on him playing the script as true to the expectations of him as possible.
The higher he ascended into the mysteries, the more he felt he was shackled by the dogmas and traditions of the Imperial Cult, by its creeds and doctrines, its laws and cannons.
It was a prison of the mind, a prison without walls.
His circumstances were unique.
None of his peers experienced the same things, little was expected of them, they were merely functionaries, men and women fulfilling roles like cast members in a play.
They were a colloquy of extras.
El, on the other hand, had a following.
It was unprecedented, he had no experience of this, and neither did the magisterium.
The Collective was fascinated by the control he exercised, the care he gave. They followed him closely and obsessed on the successive waves of consequences that flowed from his most casual utterances.
The Observer Core was tasked with manipulating his life and circumstances daily.
El found that there are no words available in any language to articulate universal truth regarding the infinite, and eternal.
Every attempt to do so was manipulative and false, while at the same time he could affirm that not every manipulation of religious doctrine was malicious, and not every articulation of universal truth, no matter how errant is an intentional prevarication.
Most people believed in the errors that they promulgated, making them innocent of wrongdoing, even though they were in error.
They believed what they had been taught to belive.
Even most bad actors are innocent, because they believe in their heart that the erroneous doctrines they promulgate serve some greater good, they believe in the mission they carry out, in the Imperial Cult, in the Great Chain of Being which are the foundation of orthodoxy.
They believed in what the Continuum promised, while confessing that the mechanics of it; the how and the where and the why of it remained a mystery to them, a matter forever situated beyond them in a great cloud of unknowing.
The religion of the Empire was a web of lies, coercions and control mechanisms, lies that had been perfected over millions of years, lies that held the people together.
It required a breakthrough in cognitive thinking to shatter the controls that governed the thoughts of the ordinary citizens, very few people could endure the strain.
It drove them mad.
Of all the castes, it was only the priestly caste that even attempted to prepare people for such a watershed in consciousness.
The Continuum delighted in the observation of every failure, through those failures it learned even greater controls.
El studied and meditated and pushed the discipline of his mind and body, he embraced the cloud of unknowing, pulling it into himself, and he passed through the crucible with ease.
From his childhood he learned to reject imperial conditioning.
He was always a rebel at heart.
Chapter Forty-one, Tradition
El became a living exemplar of the faith, a flesh and blood narrative of what the people of the Empire hoped for.
His story sustained them, like food for the hungry and water to the thirsty.
The stages of his life symbolized what the faith of every citizen held to be true, what they were led to believe through the teaching of the Imperial Cult, and in its way, because of the hope he represented, he also perfectly articulated the fears of the ruling class.
His early life demonstrated how a person and a family could be caste down and caste out. As he transitioned from plebian to criminal, to outcaste and ultimately a rebel.
The story of those transitions took on the quality of an epic myth, characterizing the decent that everyone feared might be waiting for them and those they loved, the expectant judgement awaiting them in the timeless place before rebirth, if they did not fulfill their duties faithfully.
Even in his decent he demonstrated qualities of virtue and integrity that were supposed to be redemptive. The narrative of his life, which virtually every citizen in the empire was familiar with, was in a constant state of editing, of simplification and refinement for the purposes of propaganda.
People on a million worlds followed him, put their hopes in him, believed that he was a child of the God’s, of the Continuum, a divine being sent to live among them, a hero to share their pain, to lead them out of the worlds of suffering and chaos.
He was a demi-god, myths regarding his origins circulated among the people, carefully crafted by the Imperial Cult, for maximum exposure.
El’s life story became a new vehicle of control and exploitation.
During his long life whole generations had been born, and died adoring him, they set him on a pedestal, ignorant of the danger that they were merely preparing him for a mighty fall.
El participated with full devotion in the great charade of temple life.
He never let on that he did not believe in the things he studied or the things he taught, after all, he was the subject and the beneficiary of the greatest miracle that had ever been engineered in the living memory of the Empire.
He had returned from the dead.
The perception of holiness mattered more than the reality, his safety and security depended on it, but more importantly the safety of the woman he loved depended on it.
Every affectation of pietas was a charade, pageantry, performance art and deception.
This did not bother him.
The most important thing to the hierarchy is what people believed about the priesthood.
The rituals were like veils, they obscured reality but they were also translucent. If you practiced mindfulness you could peer through them, remove each veil, one by one, while advancing in knowledge.
Image was everything; rhetoric not logic, not truth, rhetoric was the measure of the day.
The truth, if it was known, would only harm people, confuse them, or so the priestly cast believed.
It would tear the Empire apart, El was sure of that.
Given the powers belonging to the priesthood, it was a relatively easy task to deceive the masses.
The priesthood controlled the Imperial Schools, and more importantly the cultic rituals that governed every moment of the day to day lives of the citizens.
The controls the priesthood exercised were not taught as vehicles of deception, but as a guided rituals, intended to slowly bring people to a place of sanctity. They were preparation for the next life and the world to come.
Everything was theater.
El was a grand performer.
He had an intuitive sense for the fact that he was being watched at every moment, filmed, studied, reviewed.
He did not think about it, and yet it never left his awareness.
In the rituals of the priesthood every gesture was important.
The complex movements of the customs and rituals reenacted a narrative and reinforced a story that encompassed the history of the Empire and its million worlds.
The rites fostered a sense of belonging in the people.
It was an incredible drama, the story of every planet was told, of every class, every victory and every crushing defeat.
The rise and fall of worlds was recounted in the liturgical cycle.
The glory of the Imperial house and the part each person played in the construction of that story was told and retold, both to terrify and to instruct, to delight in and give hope.
The group participation in those rituals, led by the priests, sent waves rippling through the lives of the faithful, binding them as by the successive movement of concentric rings.
El played his part flawlessly.
He became the singular focus of every nearly every person in the Empire, whispers began to take shape that he would lead the people to a new way of life.
El did nothing to counter those narratives. He himself wanted to believe it was true.
The imperial system was held together by class, rank and ancestry.
Only the outcaste was free from it, and while they were free from the oppressive weight of the conforming belief systems, they were absolutely without rights, without representation in government or standing before the courts.
Nearly every citizen clung to their place in the hierarchichal order with vicious determination. They knew they were constantly under watch, scrutinized from the moment they stepped out the door of their dorm, their home or apartment, they were under constant observation.
Most of them suspected, but few of them knew the extent to which their private lives were monitored.
There was no privacy.
There were few limits to what a person would risk, merely to advance a step or two in rank.
Inasmuch as every person was inextricably bound to the system of rank, they also longed for a release from it.
They were conditioned to see release only through advancement, by forward motion, through reincarnation, and countless lifetimes of struggle.
Even death was not seen as a release, merely a transition to a new mode of suffering.
That is what the cult taught them, to always look ahead, to see themselves as one day filling the role of village chief, of captain, of high priest, of abba; to hope that they could advance so far that they and theirs would ultimately occupy the highest place of all, to ascend the steps of the curial throne and be welcomed into the Continuum, to merge with the divine Collective, find peace, to ultimately become the god of their own private world.
The immediate goals for the ordinary citizen were advancement, to climb above their neighbor, to move beyond their current station.
The realization of hope was perpetually on the other side of a great divide, it was tantalizing, ephemeral and just beyond their grasp,
Everyone believed that freedom was waiting for them. Independence was just a few paces away, if only they could have a perfect day for themselves, or engineer the failure of someone close to them.
This system pitted every person against their neighbor, children against their parents, workers against their supervisors, soldiers against their generals, and acolytes against their masters.
It pitted world against world.
The secret desire of every person was to live autonomously, free from the responsibilities of their station, or the pressure of seeking esteem from their families, peers, and colleagues.
The heavens were imagined as worlds beyond time and space where each person became a god, ruling with absolute power over a creation of their own, as dark or as light as their imagination would allow it to be.
Autonomy was an illusion, private property, self-direction, they were all lies. There was not a single point in the chain of being where a person was ever free.
What differentiated one world from another, one caste from its subordinate, was only the type of work that consumed them, and the relative degrees of comfort or luxury attending to it.
In truth, everything and everyone was fully socialized and owned by the state.
The Empire was absolute, holding power over every living thing, over life itself, even the lives of an entire world could be sacrificed in a moment at the whim of the Emperor, or for the malign purposes of the Continuum.
It was possible for an individual to be at peace in the Empire, millions of citizens were. Theirs was the peace and comfort of the acquiescent.
Acquiescence masked itself as transcendence, passivity as mindfulness, unquestioning as understanding, silence as self-realization, and acceptance as actualization.
People were conditioned to obey, they found satisfaction in it.
To be at peace in the Empire a person merely had to accept the view that their happiness was an integral part of the whole. An individual did not have a right to their own immediate and personal sense of joy. They had to look beyond themselves, to the wholeness of their family, to the security of their village, to the prestige of their world and beyond.
This was referred to as the globalist perspective, and it was normative.
The sound perspective, what was most helpful was to look beyond their immediate conditions of their lives, to look to the next life, to a series of a thousand lives, to the long-slow turning off the wheel of life.
The immediate present could not be changed, only accepted and accounted for.
Individual happiness did not matter, what mattered was the happiness of the whole.
It was a trick.
Most of the population of the empire had been bred to accept this, with those liabilities reinforced by their education in the Imperial Schools and their worship in the Imperial cult.
The citizens understood the reality of the Empire, a million worlds, stretched across the galaxy, but the vast majority would never leave the world they were born on.
Interstellar, travel was mainly the province of the soldier and priest, with the exception of the outcastes, who were likely to be gathered up and sent off world to the serves in the mining fields scattered throughout the Empire. They were the expendable labor force and they were used as such.
Nevertheless, the people held an image of the Royal worlds in their minds, hoping one day to go there, or be reborn there.
It functioned in their consciousness like a beacon, a light to guide them…a false hope.
Every person desired to see their lives as meaningful. Even those citizens whose station in life was fixed in drudgery. This cognitive impulse, to ascribe meaning onto even the most ordinary and mundane activities was instinctual, a genetic imperative.
The mode by which the individual person shaped the narrative of their experience was simple, it involved the projection of everything they did outward toward the universal, reshaping the context of even the simplest and most routine tasks.
This was a categorical imperative.
The Imperial cult ensured that every vestige of the religious rites that the people engaged in, every movement, every word they uttered, conditioned them to believe that individual fulfillment came through the great chain of being, through a series of incarnations, and re-incarnations in which each person experienced life at every station, rising or falling in rank according to the merits by which they lived out each one of their lives.
The journey of the individual entity was depicted in the sacred text like the revolution of a galaxy, billions of stars turning around a massive gravity well, the fixed singularity of a black hole.
It was a cosmic dance.
Planets and stars, turning around the center, until one by one, each was consumed by it, drawn to the point of no return, merging with it, passing across the event horizon, becoming one with the singularity itself.
This example, drawn from nature, was especially poignant to the people.
The common end which it proclaimed, the final calculus of all existence spoke of equal justice for all.
The singularity was depicted not as the end in itself, but as the entry point to another state of being, a gateway to another dimension.
The Continuum was depicted as analogous to this fixed point in nature, and it was a black hole, the material end of all things and that of the soul’s journey, both located in the same terminus.
Chapter Forty-two, Fear
The prevailing mode of cognition afflicting the masses was this: The simple belief that desire was the cause of all suffering.
This was the principle teaching of the Imperial schools, preached with fervor among the worlds.
The faithful were reminded of this daily, with the encouragement to give up their hopes and thoughts for themselves, to accept their station in life and expect nothing in return.
The pain of hunger and of thirst were merely the result of the desire for life.
The majority of people were able to do just this. They led unremarkable lives, and against that backdrop those who resisted stood out, producing the most riveting dramas for the Collective and its Continuum to absorb.
Suffering as punishment, was apportioned with surgical precision and insidious delight, targeting both the ordinary deviant whose activities were caught by the Imperial police, as well as special victims chosen by the Observers and the Continuum for the flare their narratives would bring.
The special victims were unsuspecting people, by and large, guilty only of thought crimes, or speaking out in private against the system of beliefs and the rubrics of the empire they lived under.
The people were taught that every moment of joy was temporary, only to be experienced as respite from a state of perpetual loss, all of which was orchestrated as preparation and testing for a state of blessedness to come, in eternity.
The rituals they enacted reinforced the ever-present belief that the struggles they endured were meant to encourage self-abnegation, and the erasure of the will.
They were taught to surrender.
The prevailing philosophy was this:
Pain is necessary and purgative, both as penance for sin and as a preparation for holiness. This sentiment was embedded at every level, in every ritual of the Imperial Cult.
This is not to say that every moment of a person’s life was filled with pain, for pain to meaningful it had to be regulated, interspersed by moments of relief and happiness.
This teaching was reinforced in alternating and successive waves of joy and sorrow, of pleasure and pain through the human experience.
The experiences were different in every caste, but the ultimate message was this:
There is no safety or security for the living.
Among the plebians, the people hoped for material wealth and comfort, for rank and prestige, worked to the point of exhaustion for the smallest gains, and routinely saw those gains stripped away.
The soldier wanted victory and glory, they wanted to experience the pleasures of the flesh after combat. They were almost universally short lived, encountering death and disease at every turn.
Among the priestly class there was the quest for power and control. They were consumed with the endless drama of their dynastic ambitions.
Above all, the priest wanted to be elevated to the realm of eternal life, to become one with the Continuum.
Priests routinely sacrificed everything they held dear to achieve these ends.
Their proximity to power made them easily corruptible
Suffering was life, moments of pleasure were structured to be brief, they were teaching moments, with periods of joy manifested as random, intermittent and spontaneous events.
Joy was the ephemeral thing, perpetually floating in the middle distance, tantalizing, always slightly beyond the grasp of the individual.
Everyone wanted to advance in rank and every person knew where they stood, the ranking of the citizenry was one of the many vehicles by which the Empire controlled and suppressed the population.
Everyone knew exactly where they belonged, and who had to be eliminated, or appeased in order for themselves or their family to advance in rank.
The Empire used the ranking system like a bludgeon.
The social standing of the individual, of every single family, of each village and every last planet was used to control the flow of people, of goods, of ideas and even hope.
There was no comfort in rank, only shame, no matter how exalted you might be on your own world, your entire planet was subservient to someone or something else.
The figures of rank were known, including the complex algorithm that coordinated caste, planet, class, locale, family, and individual status.
Every person was expected to adhere to the system. In public places, even small breaches of etiquette were recorded and punished.
The figures of rank were broadcast. Everyone knew where they stood. The algorithm was ever-present, in constant use as a governing tool managing every social interaction.
There was no chance that even a random encounter with a complete stranger would result in a situation in which those present did not know who was called to deference.
Very little policing was required. The people managed each other and all of their interactions with a jealous zeal.
No matter what your Imperial rank, the focus of society was always directed to what a person lacked, rather than what they had achieved.
There were trillions of citizens in the Empire, spread across a million worlds, each and every one of them was conditioned to be joyful, but joyful only in the fulfillment of their duties, in the satisfaction of their role.
They were not. Whatever joy they expressed was a merely an illusion they felt compelled to put on display.
This was the purported purpose of the Imperial Schools, and the stated aim of the Imperial Cult.
These aims and goals were utterly meaningless, and the Empire failed completely to meet these ends.
Keep the eyes of the citizen focused on the daily tasks.
Keep the citizen obsequious and churlish.
Keep the citizens in a perpetual state of anxiety and terror.
Keep each person producing goods and service to feed the endless hunger of the Continuum.
The Empire succeeded in those goals.
The Empire processed the mineral wealth of planetary systems, sweeping asteroid belts, capturing comets, crushing whole worlds for their ores, their carbons and their silicates, sending them on massive barges to the central planet.
It was tribute.
The Continuum used that wealth to grow the physical structures that housed the Collective.
In the Imperial cult, the principle of selflessness was taught as the single most important aesthetic to live by.
The concept of personal honor was completely tied to the notion of giving.
Selflessness was imagined as the only possible way for a person to escape from the material conditions that oppressed the living, governing the daily lives of every person.
The goal of the living was freedom, a freedom which they imagined existed only beyond the veil of life.
People sought absolution of self for the sake of the greater good, believing that all evil and injustice originated in the appetites of the body.
They were taught to repeat the universal mantra, the echoes of which resounded for them as a constant refrain, desire is the cause of all suffering.
The abnegation of desire, kenosis, the emptying of the self, this was at the core of every prayer, of every oblation.
Freedom from the illusory conditions of the living world could only come about by the dissolution of the self.
This was the bath of salvation, metanoia the conversion of personhood into a self-identification with the whole.
There could be no peace without it, the esteem of one’s peers depended completely on the ability to perpetuate the illusion.
It was a dichotomy.
The people were conditioned to defer to authority, their perseverance depended on it.
Everyone looked up to those in the higher castes, or to a person of higher rank even within the same caste. They were conditioned to defer to that authority, regardless of how sound its practices and judgements were.
If a person from a higher caste or of greater rank ordered you to something against your will, even if it was immoral or illegal, your duty was to obey.
A general would defer to a novice priest.
An old man would defer to a child, even to the point of laying down his life for him, they would voluntarily suffer extreme forms of abuse, torture, even a threat to their family.
This system created great drama.
The people were conditioned, they acquiesced both from fear and from covetousness, because they wanted those same powers for themselves, and they believed that the path to possessing such power meant submitting in the face of it.
They looked to obedience as the path to self actualization.
The system destroyed them all.
Crimes could not be concealed, they were always discovered and punished, but only when the moment was right, when it would create the perfect drama for the Continuum to orchestrate and pass on to the Collective for its consumption.
A person might be allowed to get away with crime for decades, only to have it all catch up to them at the peak of their ambitions, or in the ultimate depths of their turpitude.
There was no justice.
Everything was artifice.
The teaching of the Imperial Schools and most importantly the great religion of the Imperial Cult, its dogma and rituals, all of its spiritual practices colluded to persuade the people into the complete subjugation of their will.
The spiritual goal as stated was for the individual to rise through every station of life, over the course of trillions of lifetimes, to ultimately be released from the wheel of life for the return to eternal source of all being, and self-annihilation.
It was a journey to nothing and nowhere.
Every link in the great chain of being must be connected.
While submission was the constant rule, the promised reward for lifetimes of servitude was the hope that you would be accepted by the Collective, absorbed into the Continuum, made into a Godlike being, given rulership of your own planet with absolute authority and complete security for eternity.
What was promised was antithetical to what was expected in practice. This dichotomy was understood and presented to the faithful as an essential mystery.
Faith and trust were the conditions that must be met in order to advance.
The Continuum examined the conscience of each person to measure their faith, their willingness to be absolved, their readiness for absolution, these conditions must be met, and be met perfectly before the individual could be accepted, and thereby exalted.
The individual must be measured against every possible temptation, only then could they be allowed to pass through the veil.
In the practical reality of daily life, it was easy for a person to see failure all around them, they were taught not to judge those above them in rank, but to merely accept the mystery that they were engaged in.
Judgement was nearly impossible to avoid, and corruption was rampant in the higher castes.
It suited the Continuum to advance the individuals who were the best exemplars of this tradition into the membership of the Collective, every one of them strengthened the Continuum’s hold over the whole.
Part Six, The Empire
Chapter Thirty-six, Servant
A Novel – In One Chapter Per Week
#Emergence #ShortFiction #365SciFi #OneChapterPerWeek
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