Week 38, 2019
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.
Part Six, The Empire
Chapter Thirty-six, Servant
A Novel – In One Chapter Per Week
#Emergence #ShortFiction #365SciFi #OneChapterPerWeek
Like it, Follow it, Share it!