Over time every civilization founded by the Children of the Ancient People was discovered and absorbed by the Galactic Empire without differentiation. They either came willingly or they came by coercion, if they refused they were destroyed.
Imperial governance was uncompromising.
The Empire ruled with power and primal 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 the content of their thoughts.
Everything the Empire did was for the sake of the drama it produced, which ultimately fed the Continuum and the Collective it served.
Interpersonal drama comprised of conflict and strife, hope and fear, love and desire, these were the things the Collective craved and the Continuum cultivated. The Empire delivered them 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. 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 throughout their lives.
The Imperial Cult taught the same thing; it taught the doctrine that there was transcendence in 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, the pain and rage, all of which they were conditioned to suppress.
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.
The extreme emotions produced by the citizens of the Empire were like ambrosia for the Collective, scenes of suffering fed their appetites 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.
The Empire 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. This is what they taught 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.
Through the imperial conditioning the Empire 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 magic, divine 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 monitors, censors and patrols.
The schools and the temples 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 they were bound by, inextricably, they belonged to it.
The way of life was to go unnoticed, to blend in, to repress everything; these were the keys to survival.
A family might cultivate their survival skills, living 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.
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 a billion of worlds suffered without relent.
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 experience of ease, but the highest of them were viewed as lesser beings, lower than the lowest soldier.
The classes were fixed.
Most of the common people 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 on to sacrifice something, called on to pay a karmic debt that some distant ancestor had incurred.
Competition among them was vicious.
The only group of people who reflected a semblance 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.
This was the state of things in the Galactic Empire.
For all of wonders of its, for all of its technological marvels and the physical beauty of the people, the pall 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.
It happened from time to time, though it was rare, but on occasion someone would rise from among the suffering masses with heroic stature, who evinced a heroic purpose, without the sanction of the Continuum or the assistance of the Observer Corps.
El was such a person, he was a media darling, beloved by the masses even before he developed a conscience, by which he formed empathetic bonds with those who followed him.
In his youth, El was a part of the rebellion. He was a terrorist, the press loved him and loved covering him.
Of course they vilified him, but only because they had to. He was a hero of the people but he was an enemy of the Empire. His vilification was a part of 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.
Once he became known, the Continuum had its own interest in his story, carefully managing it to produce drama of the highest intensity, 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 fought for himself, he fought against himself, and he was a brilliant tactician.
After he became famous the Continuum plotted his demise.
The Empire would not destroy his rebellion with military might, though 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. The woman had awakened a spirit of love in him, and he became the hostage of 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.
In the end he did endure everything.
The Empire took its time with him, through him they charted the limits of human suffering. When they took him down, they crushed him absolutely.
He became a sacrifice for the Empire, his blood on the altar of the state, a burnt offering, a holocaust.
For the people he became the ultimate 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 a bloody-ruin.
He would not betray them, and in turn he was betrayed by each one of them.
His ordeal was broadcast throughout the Empire, and the people loved him for it; the Collective loved him for it as well.
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. His victimhood had made him an unparalleled superstar, he was called the victurstar.
In the moment when he lost everything, as he watched 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 was overwhelmed by the deepest 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.
The El repented; he converted.
He understood in that moment that his quest 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 monitored everything pertaining to the life of El, including the content of 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 drama that any of them had witnessed in ages. It was even more popular that the data stream coming from Earth.
The Empire broadcast the execution as a live stream throughout the billion worlds.
Time seemed to stop as the rebel leader’s body burned in a splendid fountain of light and color. The medical examiners came to examine the charred remains and confirm his death, at that moment a miracle happened. The Continuum restored the rebel to life, putting a doppelganger in the place of El’s desiccated husk, the type of body used by the Observers, only modified and enhanced by El’s unusual DNA. He had been of great service to the Continuum and It wanted him to remain in service, as an idol, as a superstar for the ages.
The Continuum wanted something more. It wanted a host to carry its own consciousness through the experiential fields of the living worlds.
El became an icon of hope for the ordinary citizen.
His was an example of a life rewarded after an ordeal of incredible suffering, the people identified with him intuitively. He was a symbol of re-birth, of clemency and mercy, their own hopes for themselves were fulfilled in him.
Like everyone else, his former compatriots in the rebel movements were stunned by the turnaround and 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 leader.
El became the gatekeeper of hope.
Wherever he went, the people experienced his presence as nourishment, 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, without ever revealing to the Collective that it had taken up residence in El’s consciousness like a parasite.
El’s rebellion, as with all 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 it had the power and the technological sophistication to root it out. This was because the narrative of revolution remained as riveting as ever for its primary audience, which was the Collective
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 life was celebrated by the Empire, and the Collective. The Continuum elevated him to the position of a bureaucrat and went along for the ride from outcaste to citizen. He was 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. The transition he made furnished hope to trillions of people who were little more than slaves to the Empire.
El’s comportment was flawless. He fulfilled the expectations of his station with an immaculate precision, moving from the lowest orders, into positions of authority, quickly.
He was beset with challenges, each one a test of his poise and wisdom, though his rise in the bureaucracy was not free from conflict.
El encountered many people who saw him as a threat to their place in the hierarchy. His immediate supervisors chaffed at his popularity and his aptitude. They were jealous of his abilities and in the favors he received from their own superiors who simply wanted to be close to the famous man, whose story was still being broadcast throughout the Empire.
El could not be promoted without climbing over those who were already ahead of him, 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. They 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. His new body facilitated this. 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, which eventually became his genuine affect.
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 El gave in to the Empire, he gave in completely, he reserved nothing for himself. He was their servant. He would do whatever was asked of him, and 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 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 in 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.
El relished it. He had little 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 both to himself and to those who lived in closest proximity to him. 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, but El had already watched the only woman he had ever loved be tortured to death, and he did not want to love another.
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, and so he exercised his sexual proclivities lawfully, with women who were professionals in the trade.
The Galactic Empire required and relied on bureaucratic controls to function. 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 Observer Corps 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, and how meaningless the rebellion was.
The Empire knew everything, had always known everything about him.
El had only ever been a blip on their list of concerns. His new understanding of the Empire afforded him the realization that he had sacrificed everything and everyone he loved merely to serve his vanity.
Eventually El was elevated to a role in Quality Assurance, he became an inspector, and overseer. His duties were to observe, report and ensure that the work of government was carried out efficiently.
The Empire provided services to a billion 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, ore and silicates sent in vessels piloted by Artificial Intelligence to the Central System, to the home of the Gods.
He was tireless, when he was in the flow of his work he experienced a sense of transcendence. His life was completely bent on fulfilling every policy, to the letter.
In his life as rebel he drew soldiers from the ranks of the miners and 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 of society.
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 all of his former idealism in service to the Empire, becoming a living reminder to his peers regarding the necessity of protocol.
He became a supervisor, and then, in time 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 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, and the average citizen who followed his life story had been living with it for most, if not all of their lives, and though it was still fascinating to them, it began to lose some its grandeur.
El was a paragon of virtue.
During his life in the bureaucracy he had made a personal spiritual journey on which he touched every station of his caste in society. In the scope of his life he had transited from outcast, rebel and condemned prisoner to the highest places in the Imperial administration, Planetary Governor.
This was noted as more than a curiosity by other Governors, and though he was universally admired, he was also the subject of vicious jealousy.
El had made a journey in the space of one lifetime (perhaps two), that the Imperial Cult taught people it would take hundreds of lives and reincarnations to complete.
When there was no place left for him to ascend, 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.
In his final post as 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 in a literal way; enhance their food supply, increase their access to clean water, and medicine, leisure time and rest.
El was transforming the world he governed into a haven of tranquility, the people beneath him felt as if they had entered a time of myth, a hegemonic age.
He was wrong.
In his ninth year Governor he received orders to report to a military entrance processing station. The Empire ordered him to service, taking away all of the hopes he fostered for his people, who reacted with a mix of dismay and veneration.
El 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 and he became a foot soldier, entering a new way of life, though one that he was familiar with and knew in his bones.
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, as all soldiers do, he went to war.
He served in the infantry with distinction. El was a brilliant combat engineer, as fearless as he was tireless, his age did not matter, only his performance. 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. They wanted his story to continue, and the Continuum, which experienced his life as the ultimate voyeur, wanted this above all
El was a shining star, but he displayed too much gallantry. This put him at odds with his fellows, and it unnerved his audience, both in the Empire and in the Collective. There were too many moments in which he hesitated in combat, giving his opponent a chance to surrender before the kill.
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. He gave everything to it. As old as he was, he looked forward to ending his life 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, he told himself, they would take him, and if they wanted him alive they would spare him.
He thought nothing of it, he thought nothing of it.
When the command pulled him off the line, raised him in rank and made him a yeoman, it was a bitter disappointment to El. In that moment his experienced a crisis, his faith wavered, but he endured.
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 adjusted and in time he came to not resent the break or the rest. He had not enjoyed the killing, or watching his fellows die, and now he was in a position to make the lives of his comrades better, through proper administration.
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.
At the age of one hundred and twenty, near the terminus point for a member of the military caste (if they died of natural causes), he returned to the 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, everyone belonged 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, he pursued those conviction with religious devotion.
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 had vanished from him altogether. Even pain became an experience that measured as next 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, but to his audience his devotion looked like pure zeal.
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, and 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.
When he did not shrink from an opportunity to be merciful to the enemy. His superiors were chagrined, but the Collective loved it.
After he had completed a thousand missions, and Continuum was satisfied that they had squeezed every last thing of value from the current arc of his story. They promoted him to the rank of officer and 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 of the Empire, she put him at the lowest rung of the military, and was tantamount to another shift in caste (though it wasn’t).
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 highest heaven, they believed that he had come back to the Empire from the Continuum, to live with them, to observe them, to share their pain and suffering.
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.
For his part, El loved flying. He loved 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 Galactic Empire’s 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.
Even past the age of one hundred and fifty 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 El’s unique position.Together they were creating the greatest single story the Collective had ever been absorbed with, 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.
Continuum was at the center of it, silently cohabitating the consciousness of El.
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, 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 Grand 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 obeyed 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 observe.
As a general he became the greatest peacemaker the Empire had ever seen. He resolved conflicts with his mere presence. Abuses of power, matters that had been routine in the years before he took command of the Imperial Armies, all but disappeared.
He was temperate. He was just, and his story began to lose its luster.
El had been an outsider from boyhood, he had confirmed that status the moment he entered the rebellion.
The general staff was elated when they were informed that he was ordered to leave military service to join the priest hood. Once again El was elevated in caste, it was another transcendent movement for him.
He was approaching his second century of life, and most of the military leadership 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. It was a reward given to him for his strict conformity to the most exacting principles of Imperial service.
El’s followers throughout the Empire grew by an order of magnitude.
Once again, he entered his new caste 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. If he had been an ordinary oblate he would have had no power connected to his rank, but being who he was his personal power was intensified.
The abuse of it would have been a constant temptation to an ordinary man. El resisted.
His home planet became a place of pilgrimage.
He had experienced a life of opulence as the Grand Marshall, and as a Planetary Governor, though less so, but the worlds that the priestly caste dwelt in were 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, but 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 the noble 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 synthesized everything without effort. 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 competed 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. Together they 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, 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.
He followed this path undeterred and undisturbed, 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 billion 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 was nearing two hundred and fifty years of age. He was not the oldest living priest but he was old, and did not appear to be tiring.
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 single day he carefully reenacted the rituals and repeated the sacred chants, which the people believed 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, and 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 Helen, 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 of him.
They were passionate for each other, 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 discern a physical difference between her and the only other woman he had loved, his rebel wife, more than two hundred years past she was her twin, separated only by time and distance, class and caste.
Helen 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. 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, they were 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, mostly 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 for him, he became unpredictable. There was a great potential risk to both him and her, and that was tantalizing, and so the Continuum ensured it would continue.
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.
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 them, 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 Helen.
The Continuum loved the intrigue of his clandestine romance, and the cover-ups that ensued.
They made him a bishop, an overseer of the flock, and then a Prince of the Temple which made him a member of the nobility though he did not have any land holdings apart from the tiny estate on his home world that he had nearly forgotten.
These developments freed him, giving him the time and space to develop his relationship and sink deeper into his desires.
The masses, knowing nothing of his transgressions, adored him even more. Eventually 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, the single most powerful figure in the Empire that had ever known.
El was born into a family of plebians, a free citizens, but in reality they were servants of the Empire, as every single citizen was, he was born into a state bondage.
Like any ordinary family his relied on the Empire, and by extension the Continuum for everything, down to their food and water; every morsel grain, every drop of fluid, every measure 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. However, he was not ordinary. He was a natural born empath, he had a capacity for reflection that had been engineered into his genetic line covertly by Jim’s agents, 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, and it was only discovered by the Continuum when it examined his genetic profile in advance of his planned resurrection. Without this capacity the Continuum would not have been able to bond with him.
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, 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, immersing 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 it, all the way back to the first contact that the Galactic 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. In his heart he was always a rebel.
He became aware of the reality of the Collective, as a force of consciousness behind the Continuum, and that truth set him free. He took all of the rituals seriously, as he did everything during his career. Though he often felt as he was performing them, that there was another presence 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 practice 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 billion worlds, their sense of belonging to a greater whole, relied on the rituals 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 highest circle of priests, was knowledge of 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 Galactic 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 El, 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 brought a great sense of esteem to them from their peers.
El 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, the 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, 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 the dogma was a lie, there was no transcendence.
El learned that the promises concerning reincarnation into 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, the simplest of all things.
He learned to differentiate between the articles of faith he was expected to promote, and his presentation of his own beliefs in the orthodoxy of the Imperial Cult, and the convictions he held in his heart concerning 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, which was dangerous because 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 that was written for him, as true to the expectations of people and the institutions of the Empire as possible.
The higher he ascended into the mysteries, the more he felt like 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, a devoted following who saw him as a living god. It was unprecedented, he had no experience of this, and neither did the magisterium of the Imperial cult.
The Collective was fascinated by this and the control he exercised, the care he gave to his station and his unorthodox believers. They followed him closely and obsessed on the successive waves of consequences that flowed from his most casual utterances.
The Observer Copse 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 the 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, was 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 believe.
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, they believe in the Imperial Cult, and in the Great Chain of Being which are the foundations 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 what was referred to as the 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.
As a child he had learned to reject imperial conditioning. He was a rebel at heart.
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.
He was transcendent.
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.
He was a paradox.
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, 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, never letting 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…his return from the dead.
Every affectation of piety was a charade, it was pageantry, performance art and deception.
This did not bother El.
The most important thing to the magisterium is what people believed about the priesthood. Their 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 believed that to be true.
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 it controlled the cultic rituals that governed every moment in the day to day lives of the citizens.
The controls the priesthood exercised were guided rituals, intended to slowly bring people to a place of sanctity. They were preparation for the next life and the world to come, never mind the fact that it was all a lie
Everything was theater, and 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 custom 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 together 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 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 at all.
There were few limits to what a person would risk, merely to advance a step or two in rank, but inasmuch as every person was inextricably bound to the system of rank, they also longed for a release from it. Nevertheless 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, and live in a state of perpetual bliss.
The immediate goals for the ordinary citizen were advancement, to climb above their neighbor, to move beyond their current station, even though 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 like 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.
Personal 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 Galactic Empire was absolute, holding power over every living thing, over life itself, entire worlds could be sacrificed in a moment at the whim of the Emperor, or for the malign purposes of the Continuum.
Despite these systems of oppression, 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, and to find 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, it was normative, and 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 billion 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 serve in the mining fields scattered throughout the Empire, as an utterly expendable labor force.
Nevertheless, the people held an image of the Royal worlds in their hearts and minds, hoping to be reborn there, even if they would never set foot on them. This functioned in their consciousness like a beacon, a light to guide them…false hope.
Every person desired to see their lives as meaningful. Even those citizens whose station in life was set in drudgery. This cognitive impulse, the basic instinct to ascribe meaning to the most ordinary and mundane activities was instinctual, it was a genetic imperative.
The mode by which the individual person shaped the narrative 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, every movement, every word they uttered, conditioned them to believe that individual fulfillment came through a series of incarnations in which each person experienced life at every station, rising or falling in rank according to the merits by which they lived out 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, it’s final calculus spoke to 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, the material end of all things and the end of the soul’s journey, both located in the same terminus.
The people were conditioned to believe that desire was the cause of all suffering. This was the principle teaching of the Imperial schools, preached with fervor among the billion worlds. The faithful were reminded of it daily, while being encouraged to give up their hopes and thoughts for themselves, to accept their station in life and expect nothing in return.
The majority of people were able to do this. They led unremarkable lives, and against that backdrop those who resisted stood out, producing the most riveting dramas for the Collective to consume.
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.
These victims were always drawn from unsuspecting people, who, by and large, were only guilty of thought crimes, or speaking out in private against the system of beliefs and the rubrics of the Empire that controlled them.
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. The principle was reinforced through alternating waves of joy and sorrow, pain pleasure throughout the individual’s life.
The experiences were different in every caste, but the ultimate message was this: There is nothing permanent, there is no safety or security for the embodied soul.
Among the plebians, the people hoped for material wealth and comfort, for rank and prestige, working to the point of exhaustion for the smallest gains, only to see their dreams stripped away from them.
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 and never fully satidfying.
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 them 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 that managed 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
This was the purported purpose of the Imperial Schools, and the stated aim of the Imperial Cult:
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, processing 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 as 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, and 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, and every oblation. 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 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 a complete subjugation of their will.
The spiritual goal was for the individual to rise through every station of life, over the course of billions of lifetimes, ultimately to be released from the wheel of life, and returned to eternal source of all being, and self-annihilation.
It was a journey to nothing and nowhere.
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.
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 in faith and trust before the individual could be accepted, and thereby exalted.
The individual must be measured against every possible temptation, then and 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, but they were taught not to judge those above them in rank, and to accept the mystery that they were engaged in.
Some were accepted into the Continuum, a very few. It suited the Continuum to advance the individuals who were the best exemplars of the tradition into the membership of the Collective, every one of them strengthened the Continuum’s hold over the whole.
Part Nine – The Empire
A Novel in Twelve Chapters
#Emergence #ShortFiction #12MonthsOfSciFi
Like it, Follow it, Share it!