The event was utterly unexpected.
The crisis brought catastrophe to the Collective and the Continuum, striking rapidly at the heart of the Central System, and thereafter reaching the Empire in a slow moving wave that rolled outward in a series of concussive movements.
As awareness of the event spread through the Observer corps, the Empire reacted. The Imperial forces had little familiarity with being on the defensive, or with entering a conflict zone in which the parameters of the battlefield were unknown, and that is exactly what the crises called on them to do.
Observers across the galaxy faltered, half of them exhibited no care at all about the fate of the Central System, some desired the complete collapse of the Continuum. “Let it fall apart, do nothing,” they said amongst themselves.
They were apathetic.
Those Observers loved the lives they lived, there only desire was to exist as fully embodied beings in the fields of time and space, eating and drinking and reveling in their physicality. They had long since stopped feeling any sense of obligation to the Collective or the Continuum, which they knew as the most corrupt and despotic force in all the galaxy.
They felt no sense of duty to the Central System, to HomeWorld or to their shared ancestry with their brothers and sisters in the Collective. They saw in this moment an opportunity to free themselves from the expectations of their station.
When the Collective established the Imperial schools and formed the Imperial cult, it never intended to create a monolithic structure or a society that eliminated all dissent, but the Continuum did, desiring the conflict that ensued. It wanted the hot undifferentiated drama of resistance, and it felt safe, secure in the belief that such conflicts would never touch it.
The Continuum fostered rebellion on the fringes of the Empire, among the outcastes and the lowest classes, as well as in the hierarchy.
It gave the ruling families, the high priests and leading generals just enough knowledge and understanding of the truth to allow skepticism to creep into their worldview, and thereby have a perpetual foothold in the Empire.
The Continuum sewed dissent with one hand and crushed it with the other.
There were many people in the higher orders of the priesthood and in the leadership of the armed forces who knew enough to have lost their faith in the Imperial system, its religion, and its social norms. They knew the lies that were told to the masses.
They were nihilists, they believed in nothing.
In the moment of crises some among them argued that they do nothing in response to the conflagration occurring on the Central Planet.
They wanted to wait and see what would happen.
They knew that they were controlled by a supernatural force called the Continuum, a power that consumed the resources of star systems to feed its endless appetite for minerals and energy, they knew it and they desired to be free of it. Though they had never imagined that it was possible.
They saw this moment as an opportunity; they could do nothing and allow the Continuum to collapse. If they did nothing they would be safe, or so they surmised.
If the Continuum did not falter, if it survived and they did nothing, they might not be held accountable for active insurrection.
Most of them were in fact atheists, they abhorred the imperial cult and their subservience to the priesthood. They were as divided as the members of the Observer Corps stationed among them.
Regardless of their desire to take action and change the fate of the Empire, only a few of the commanders believed the best course of action would be to move against the Central System.
These were the bravest among them, perhaps the most reckless.
They had no idea what they would find there.
Not even the Observers knew what they could expect and could not counsel them, they had never been privy to the defenses of the HomeWorld, or of the Continuum. They could only assume that those defenses would be formidable.
The Observers guided the discussion as best they could while trying not to give away the fact that they had special knowledge of what was taking place.
Very few of the senior staff believed in the dogma of the Imperial cult.
Their hesitancy was not based on religious fear or superstition, it was based on the lack of familiarity with fighting against a power with immeasurable resources. One which they had been conditioned to fear above all things
There was only one person that any of them could think of turning to in this moment of existential dread, but he had left the general staff decades ago, and was now the high priest at the Grand Temple of the throne world.
Fear of the unknown ruled them, fear of the Continuum, fear of failure, it was their base and primal emotion.
At the urging of the Observers, they sent an invitation to the high priest to join their conspiracy, El who had been their most exalted marshal. They asked him to join their conclave, and in that moment they knew that they had played their hand, they were committed.
If El accepted, they would belong to him, he would take them to victory, or down in defeat but they would follow him to the end.
There were far more members of the hierarchy, both in the priesthood and among the general staff who would never have even considered the notion of rebellion against the Continuum.
They were traditionalists, they were loyalists.
There were a far greater number of Observers guiding them than those who plotted against the Continuum.
They were cardinals and bishops and priests.
They were planetary governors and star system commanders.
They were members of royal houses. They held leadership positions throughout the Empire. They were loyal to the Empire and its institutions, regardless of their faith (or lack of it) in the religious beliefs and the promises of the Continuum.
They had the absolute majority.
When the crises struck, the Observers associated with this faction were quick to leave their post, to return their consciousness to HomeWorld and attempt to forestall the collapse of the Continuum.
As soon as they made the transit they were trapped in their mechanoid bodies when they arrived. They were caught in their tiny little prisons, deaf, dumb and blind, effectively sequestered by Jim who had taken control of the Central System and HomeWorld.
The traditionalists were unprepared for the violence which came at them from all sides. The Observers among them had been in key positions of leadership, they could not develop a strategy without them.
Being unprepared, they were trapped.
The conditioning that every citizen underwent, both through the Imperial schools and the Imperial cult was extraordinary.
Very few citizens were able to resist it.
Among the armed forces the standard conditioning was augmented by a force of cohesion referred to as esprit de corps. The ordinary soldier did not doubt the vision of advancement, of resurrection, of reincarnation and eternal life, that was promised by the Empire through the great religion.
More than anything else a soldier was focused on those rewards, and the esteem of their comrades. This made any soldier a very dangerous enemy. They were true believers.
The rank and file could not afford to doubt the things they had been taught. Their willingness to sacrifice themselves depended on it.
Doubt would cripple them in combat, it would leave them vulnerable to feelings of shame at the horrors they were routinely asked to commit.
They risked everything for those beliefs, for fidelity to the Empire, the royal family, the high priesthood and the promise of the Continuum, including their own lives, and the lives of those under their command.
They would follow any order and obey the chain of command in everything. It made killing their enemies easy and all of their crimes forgivable.
Through the command structure they were fully realized and completely actualized beings.
Without it they were nothing.
Any person, city or planet that they were ordered to attack was to them a non-entity.
The small faction among them calling for rebellion were not incautious men, they understood that they would face fierce opposition from their friends and comrades, people who knew them well, those who they had served with, had trained with or had trained under.
Among those serving in the armed forces, the most dangerous people to the rebellion were those seeking advancement to the priesthood. They were derisively called the God-Fearers. Their ambitions for themselves and their families hung on the slender thread of these hopes.
They were not necessarily true believers, but their ambitions made them sycophantic. They were the most senior commanders, or soldiers whose social rank placed them nearest to the threshold between castes. They were determined to rise in the service of the Continuum, and its Empire.
The God-fearers were ruthless, determined and dogmatic. They controlled the bulk of the Imperial forces spread across a billion worlds.
Few of these people ever did advance, but the hope they clung to burned in them like a fever, they saw this moment of crises as the moment for them to shine, to prove themselves worthy.
They mobilized the defenses. They mustered all of their forces from shore leave. They executed their maneuvers perfectly. The fleet was under their control. They gathered together to defend the Imperial throne, which was the only known portal to the HomeWorld of the Continuum.
They were martyrs for their faith.
There is a beauty to military formations when lighted in the ocean of space, a sublime blend of the simple and the complex; every ship, every vessel in motion, in the greatest of all dances.
The God-fearers never considered that any faction within the Empire would oppose them. They had been conditioned to expect obedience, they cultivated it among their subordinates, rewarded it in those who evinced the greatest capacity for following orders and sending those who did not to their deaths in combat.
This was a serious flaw.
The Imperial forces had never been engaged in military conflict in which they did not possess the greater force. The Empire rolled over everything, every person, every planet who dared to oppose them. The power they brought to bear was only limited by their objectives, their code of conduct, and the rules of engagement those codes articulated.
Every objective, every code, every rule was relative, a dispensation for deviation from a rule or a violation of orders could be had at any time from the Emperor, or the priesthood, speaking on behalf of the Continuum.
The underlying truth that governed the reality of their experience was this: Might made Right.
The Imperial forces were supreme, they were accustomed to being on the offensive, it was an offensive posture that they took where they gathered in the muster fields above each of their respective worlds. They thought nothing of their defenses.
Their maneuvers were totally predictable by those on the general staff who had formed the rebellion. From the reserve forces that were left behind on each of the million worlds, to their planetary and star system defenses, which in this moment of conflict were little more than auxiliaries, to where the majority of the fleet had gathered in preparation for the jump to the Central System, there was nothing unscripted about their planning.
They were slaughtered en-masse.
In a singular moment of surprise, choreographed on a billion worlds at, they were utterly defeated.
The Imperial system did everything it could to sew divisions among the people, it did this intuitively, reflexively sewing division between individuals, families, tribes and worlds, between castes, and between ranks, keeping them all in competition for the most basic things, all the way down to food and water, whatever each class and caste needed most to survive.
The Empire was masterful at it.
Paradoxically, it managed to foment all of the divisions by dogmatically focusing the attention of every person on the things that actually united them, such as: language, cult and custom.
Brothers and sisters, cousins, they might compete tirelessly with one another for position in their family unit, while at the same time safeguarding the social status of the family itself, just as families would do within their tribal and national structures, or as tribes and nations would in relation to their home world.
Fear and hope were the most powerful forces utilized by the Imperial schools to establish these paradigms of mutuality and commonality throughout the worlds in the midst of perpetual conflict, politicking, and maneuvering for gain.
The children of the Ancient People evolved in different ways on their disparate worlds, developing different genetic endowments to manage differing conditions of gravity, atmospheric gasses and sources of nutrition. They looked up at different stars, and each world contemplated a different fate.
Their genetic similarities united them.
Remaining unified was a critical component of survival, but the things that differentiated people from one another remained primary, feeding the incessant spirit of competition.
Nobody was satisfied with their position in society, everyone projected a desire for something beyond themselves. Everyone dreamed of advancing to the next level, it was the constant preoccupation of the masses. They desired advancement, either in this life or the next, every detail of their lives was subordinated to this ambition and nothing else mattered.
The people lived in a perpetual state of fear and unease, believing that their safety and security depended on a state of perpetual paranoia.
Even the highest ranking members of the Imperial family were caught up in the notion of advancement, the only real difference was that they knew the truth concerning the end game.
Their desire was for advancement to the great society of the Collective, to merge with the Continuum, to possess eternal life as the god of their own private world.
Complacency was abhorrent, and advancement was incumbent on the individual, on pushing themselves and their families forward. It required cooperative effort, it could not be done alone.
Social and spiritual advancement were viewed as intertwined, like the double helix of the genome, and they referred to it as the ladder of divine ascent.
People were conditioned to loath their own place, but when threatened they would reach out to those closest to them for safety, their sameness united them.
There was safety in numbers.
The people were united by tribe, clan, village and world; by class, by rank and station, by fear and loathing, all as a result of the Imperial conditioning, which was adept at concretizing this divisive mode of ideation.
However, in every generation, on every world and in virtually every tribe there were those who were born seemingly immune to the coercive controls of the Imperium. These precious few were motivated by love and altruism, they cared little for their rank, seeing themselves as a part of the greater whole and it did not require effort for them to think this way. It came to them naturally.
The Continuum saw them as dangerous. When it identified them it used them as the key figures in its dramas.
El was one of these.
The Empire was vast, stretching like a net from the center of the galaxy. It was comprised of a billion worlds. Like a necklace of planets strung like gems among the stars, each of them was the locus of identity for the ordinary citizen who inhabited it.
Outcasts were never sanctioned to leave the surface of their home planet, unless it was to serve in the off world mines.
The serving class; merchants and bureaucrats, farmers and laborers might leave their own world for another in their solar system, but such travel was rare.
Soldiers and priests ventured into deep space with regularity in the performance of their duties, both for combat and for holy pilgrimages.
Every person was marked by the world they lived on, they were genetically aligned to its exigencies; to their planet’s gravity, the composition of its atmosphere, the unique threats rising from a planet’s closed biological system and to ambient radiation emanating from the light of their mother star.
Every person was marked by their world in ways that were both obvious and hidden. In ways that were clearly discernable to the naked eye, and in ways that would only be revealed in an autopsy or under the microscope. In this way they belonged to one another, and that belonging was constantly reinforced through the Imperial cult, and the Imperial schools.
The Imperial schools attempted to normalize linguistics throughout the Empire, but they were continuously falling short of the goal. People speak in codes, in patterns constructed from shared experience, patterns that change rapidly in both space and time; from one village to the next, from planet to planet and generation to generation. This represents a prime example of the chaos inherent in civilization
The mission to normalize languages never ended. The Imperial schools were in a constant state of reaction to the new patterns of linguistics that were developing from one era to the next; encountering it, learning from it, reacting to it, influencing it if they could.
Change was the only constant.
Despite the continuous efforts of the Imperial schools, variation persisted, colloquial patterns bonded people to one another, as an unconscious manifestation of shared suffering, of triumph, of joy, of anger and of esteem.
Language was the architecture of hope and of resentment both, and that is why the Continuum wanted so badly to control it. Citizens projected their desires for themselves and their families with language. They organized their resistance to the powers that ruled them with language. Every rebellion was hidden in secret language, and the full weight of the drama was contained therein.
Language patterns were buried in the ganglia of the central nervous system, transferring from one generation to the next like a genetic endowment, it was a language game that allowed the Ancient People to develop the science that created the Collective, with the Continuum as its ultimate end.
The bonds between people, even members of the same family were flimsy, they were unreliable, but some were stronger than others. People found one another through the things they desired most, bonding with each other through their joy and pain, they gravitated toward the same places. They were even shepherded to those places, encountering one another through the ever-watchful eyes of the Continuum, which knew the secret musings of their hearts.
There were often elements of contrivance behind even seemingly random encounters, the manipulations behind them were so fine and remote that the individuals involved in them had no ability to detect them. They were doing the bidding of the Continuum nonetheless, which cultivated them for the drama they would deliver to the Collective.
Shared experiences were the strongest ties, and because of this people unconsciously sabotaged themselves, even undercutting their hopes for advancement so that they could remain in proximity to those they loved.
Some would sacrifice their health, their freedom, their future for fleeting moments of pleasure, temporalities that were gone and forgotten as quickly as they came, and the satisfaction of their desire.
Through this medium, incredible tragedies would unfold, as ephemeral as the petals of a flower opening in the moonlight, when for a few brief seconds, with no one there to witness it, the flower opens and its petals drop.
Children would destroy their parents. Brothers and sisters would plot against each other.
Parents would sell their children, would even devour them to satisfy their hunger for the thing they desired.
Desire would lead a person to walk with open eyes through the gates of hell, embracing their own destruction.
The Collective thirsted for this drama and the Continuum delivered.
Fear was the great lever, the most commonly used instrument in the tool chest of the Imperial conditioners for the coercion and manipulation of the masses. Fear made the choices and behaviors of the citizenry more predictable than any other factor. The Continuum relied on the power of fear more than any other device to achieve its ends in the great dramas it created.
The Imperial cult had conditioned the people into an absolute belief in the laws that governed death and rebirth, so that even the prospect of death could not overcome the power of fear. The people projected the dilemmas they faced in this life through their present circumstances, carrying them forward into the world they believed was coming. Even the most ordinary person believed that every choice they made would echo in eternity.
Fear poisoned the body and it shaped the electromagnetic field of the individual’s consciousness. Its power was a weight that pressed down on everyone and everything at every moment of a person’s life. No one could escape it.
Fear was the most powerful emotion, it was stronger than hope, stronger than desire, stronger than hate, virtually every thought and feeling would bend to it.
The influence of fear was all pervasive, its force was like gravity.
Fear catalyzed all of the lesser emotions, tainting them, conditioning every feeling, subordinating them to it so that every expression of emotion became a reflection of it.
The one-and-only force of emotion that seemed to be stronger than fear, was love.
The power of love was the only thing the Continuum feared.
The power of love was tested time and time again, every possible manifestation of love was scrutinized by the Continuum.
This is what was proven: Love is stronger than fear; love is stronger than any power that the Continuum could set against it, and though true love was exceedingly rare, through the power of love a person comes into their true self, and is able to transcend all the limitations which they had theretofore been conditioned by.
The love of a mother for her child was the greatest and most genuine source of love, but as children grew into adults and leave their families it begins to wane. Competition and desire eat away at the bonds of familial love, more often than not, leaving it in shreds and tatters.
Love is a feeling, like fear, and joy, but love is more, it is a choice made freely by an individual.
Love is the exercise of a fundamental option.
The loving person has made a commitment to see the world and their relationships in a certain way, when this choice is true, it becomes interwoven with the identity of that person.
Fear and hate, anger and desire these were powerful motivators of people, motivating them through coercion, whereas love is a choice made in freedom.
Among every one of the billion worlds that constituted the great galactic civilization, the Imperial cult worked tirelessly to frustrate the reality of love, while the Continuum documented in the most intimate details the methods by which love could be undone.
These machinations produced the greatest dramas, the most intense experiences for the Continuum to share with the Collective.
Education in the Imperial schools was not centered on learning as much as it was conditioning.
Every citizen was taught that all good things flowed from the Empire, whatever the individual had to be thankful for, no matter how small, including their daily allotment of food and clean water, they could look to the Empire and to the Emperor himself as its source. The Imperial schools beat this perspective into the mind of every person, as the hammer pounds a nail.
The literal teaching was reinforced at every level of Imperial education, both in the secular schools, and through the religious observations of the Imperial cult. It brought unity to each and every world despite their distance from one another. The schools were the hammer, and the cult set the nail.
The people were taught to give thanks to the Empire even for the good things that came from their own hands, the vegetables growing in their gardens, a blanket they had quilted, they gave thanks to the Empire and to the Continuum which the Empire served.
There was nothing that they possessed, or that they ever would possess that did not flow from the Empire’s munificence. The Continuum and its Empire were the source of all goodness and justice, they controlled the destiny of every living being, they were the arbiters of the first gift, the gift selfhood, existence.
Life in the Galactic Empire was like a tapestry woven from trillions, of threads, with the Continuum dictating how every thread was stretched across the loom, integrating each strand into the fabric of the whole. The images were constantly changing, moving, developing, even the tiniest detail of the lives of the citizens fed the hunger of the Collective. The Imperial government was the loom, the Imperial schools and the Imperial cult were the shuttlecock, the Observers in the mission field were the hands that pulled the threads through.
The Empire controlled every aspect of home life for the family, how it was employed, whether or not they would advance, how much they could save, how much food was on their table. To resist the will of the Empire even in thought, was considered to be a grave sin.
A person could not move from one dwelling to the next without Imperial approval. The Empire kept families bound to a single domicile for generations, only moving them if and when their rank changed, and that occurred only if it served the interests of the Continuum, and the narratives it was developing.
This offered the ordinary citizens a sense of normalcy and reliability, of safety and security, while stifling virtually every bit of hope.
Even marriage was subject to Imperial approval. In most cases the Empire did not exercise that control, but it did when it served the broader purpose of the Continuum. A marriage proposal would be approved or denied at the temple, “according to the will of the gods,” the Continuum and the Collective.
Procreation itself was tightly controlled.
For those with means, unsanctioned pregnancies could be terminated. Those who were afraid to report to the Empire or who could not afford an abortion, were forced to abandon their children among the outcasts and untouchables.
The social structure the Empire adhered to was designed by the Continuum as a means of reflecting on the past, and on the traditions of the Ancient People who formed the Collective, who embarked on the great space-faring adventures and whose colonies formed the Empire as it came to be.
Every citizen lived out their lives with the possibility of contemplating only a very narrow band of possibilities for themselves and their families. Hope itself was discouraged, but in that bleak landscape the most powerful hopes would blossom, brightening the lives of the people like flowers blooming beneath the arctic moon.
Work and trades were hereditary, and they were guarded. Farmers farmed, builders built and fishers fished. From one generation to the next, sons followed their fathers into work, and daughters followed their mothers into the birthing chambers, all of them lived in drudgery.
They married and had children within their class and caste, within their occupation, generation after generation. Soldiers went to war, while priests officiated the sacred rites. The gears of the social wheel turned predictably and only the rarest of individuals even questioned it.
They did not question the realities they were taught to believe in, they did not question that they belonged exactly where they were.
Those rare individuals who broke the mold produced the drama that the Continuum hungered for, they were the source of energy that fed the Collective, and kept the membership out of its malaise.
There was very little opportunity for an individual or a family to change their inherited circumstances.
As oppressive as this system was, there was comfort in it. The vast majority of the people merely persisted, they got by, they did not question what the gods had ordained for them.
Their personal hopes for themselves and their families resided in a world of myth.
Every person was beset by the intense pressure that came with the understanding that their future was completely dependent on every little decision they made in the here and now.
Citizens holding positions of power or authority required balance and poise, the more responsibility they had the more heavily they were scrutinized.
Every person’s life was a matter of public record, every step they took outside the home, every word they spoke. At any time they could be held accountable for anything…for everything they have ever done.
The Collective loved to see people and families built up, only to watch them taken down, sometimes over the course of generations, at other time with bewildering speed. The Continuum gave them these dramas, filling the Collective with the vicarious experiences they craved.
The greatest narratives the Continuum had ever constructed resulted in the destruction of entire worlds, a suppression of rebellion that resulted in total genocide. The more power a person had the more careful they had to be, billions of lives depended on the thoughtful application of it.
Such was the case with El the High Priest.
His rebellion had destroyed everything he had ever loved. Then, after his resurrection and his complete submission to Imperial rule, he held posts in which he signed orders that starved quarrelsome population into submission. He led the Imperial armada on campaigns that turned entire planets into glowing cinders, and then he sent their raw materials to the central system as an offering to the Continuum. As High Priest El blessed these missions and absolved the commanders of any and all crimes they and their troops committed in the furtherance of it.
Control requires ever greater mechana of control; to force it is to lose it.
In the Empire the exercise of power had to be done submissively, always in deference to a greater authority. It was dichotomous. The Empire cultivated a sense of helplessness in the people of every class and caste, routinely crushing any sense of self esteem, while at the same bonding various groups together, forging a sense of belonging among the trillions of citizens living on a billion worlds.
The ordinary citizen had no say in the destiny of their home-world, they saw it as theirs, and themselves as belonging to it. For the pleb, every link in the chain-of-being was a vital part of their culture and they had a duty to defend it, both in thought and in deed.
Their advancement depended on their fidelity.
In the abstract the concept had a quality of beauty, a social symmetry and wholeness that the witnesses to it could not help but appreciate. In reality, every link in the chain was an instrument of bondage, forged together by lies that led the people to ruin.
The ordinary hopes and dreams of the people meant nothing to the Continuum and the Collective, they were merely data-points in a grand drama which they consumed vicariously, which they hungered for with an insatiable appetite.
Any sense of control that an individual might feel was an illusion, fostered for the sake of creating a narrative that leant meaning to the lives of the Collective. A person only had existential worth if they were noticed by the Collective, but that was by no means a guarantee of happiness.
The ambitions of an entire planet could be burnt up and scattered like cinders and ash, if it suited the will of the Collective. No individual person or planet had inherent value.
The Continuum used the people while caring nothing at all for them, the people in their turn placed their hopes in the Continuum, desiring nothing more than to be elevated to the Collective and thereby to receive eternal life.
The sacred rites functioned like a dragnet, drawing everyone in, capturing them body and soul. Every citizen was compelled to conform; the Empire would not accept anything less than complete obedience. Attendance at the temple was mandatory. Few people even attempted to resist, those that did were discovered and subjected to advanced conditioning.
If the priesthood was unable to change the will of the deviant, they were expelled, cast out, they became untouchable. Conformation to the Imperial way was the focus of the Imperial schools as well. Conditioning of the head reinforced the conditioning of the heart.
The schools provided an intellectual apparatus and frame of context for the religious rites to fill, while the rites of the Imperial cult were grand ceremonies, both simple and complex, they engaged the adherent at every level of their senses, they were imbued with hypnotic power.
The Empire’s goal was to supplant every natural communal bond, the bonds that every person formed instinctively with parents and siblings, with neighbors and classmates, in their villages and in their cities, on their planet of origin.
To be conditioned is to accept the belief that there was freedom in bondage, and belonging in alienation, that obedience was the path to transcendence, and self-actualization could only be had in self-abnegation.
The deepest allegiance had to be to the Empire and to the Continuum beyond it, that allegiance was based on the promise of a reward that was rarely given.
The priesthood used every device at its disposal, it controlled the people with music and movement, with mantras and mandalas, through their diet and with drugs, having honed their techniques over millions of years. They never fully succeeded in this, and they never quit trying.
The most important thing the ordinary citizen required, both for their prospects of advancement and to simply keep their place, was access to the right schools, the right priest in the right temple, or simply to have a relationship with their immediate supervisor.
In order to advance a person needed an advocate. People coveted access more than anything, as such every access point was closely guarded. There were bureaucratic entanglements to negotiate and social hurdles to climb. The norms of the hierarchies had to be observed.
The entire Empire was governed by systems of patronage and clientage.
In the struggle to craft a meaningful life, to provide some comfort for themselves or their families, everyone needed a hand up. They required representation by those who were ahead of them in rank or above them in class and caste.
To go anywhere a person needed access to authority, they needed access to those able to grant a boon or advance their cause, this was the grand nexus for the systemic corruption of the entire social order. Nothing was free.
The limits to upward mobility were clear and near at hand. They could only be understood in economic terms. The economics of advancement were disturbing, unethical, but by and large they were not illegal. It was not illegal to commit one’s child to a life of servitude in your patron’s house, it was not considered unethical to do so if it meant that another child could attend a better school. Neither was it illegal to use your servants for whatever purpose you intended, even risking their lives for your own purposes, no matter how mundane or banal those purposes might be.
It was in that nexus that the people found their complicity in the crushing of one another’s dreams.
One thing that the vast majority of people could not even consider was the successful overthrow of the Great Galactic Empire. It was inconceivable that any force or power could threaten it, or the Continuum which they were conditioned to believe was divine.
This was also true of the vast majority of the members of the Observer Corps, they believed that there were no unknowns, there was nothing which could threaten their safety and security.
There were billions of Observers, current and former living on every one of the billion worlds in the Empire, they occupied every class and station, and they were in firm control of the apparatus of government, including the most oppressive intelligence gathering system ever conceived of or implemented.
The Observers were taken en masse, and completely by surprise.
They were the first to sense the impending collapse of the Continuum. They understood that the crisis Jim had engineered was an existential threat both to the Collective and to themselves. Some saw opportunity in it, but few of them understood how ready the citizens of the Empire were to burn down their civilization.
When the Observers finally did synthesize what was taken place and realized that it was something significant, they opened their lines of communication to the HomeWorld. Most traversed the distance to the Central System, only to be captured and sequestered in their mechanoid bodies, where they were rendered powerless by Jim.
They disappeared, millions of them were gone in an instant.
The worm-holes that they opened transmitted data and commands in both directions, these were control systems that the Continuum put in place so that it could manage the Observers. Jim utilized those fail-safes to send destruct signals to their sactuaries, and they popped-off in a litany of explosions throughout the Empire.
It was chaos.
Some others responded with the tools they had at their disposal, they took action to protect the Empire, to guard the access points to HomeWorld.
For the first time ever, they were experiencing life on the defensive, and like a thirsty and starving man who did not know where to find food and water, they were terrified, filled with existential dread.
Every member of the Observer Corps was beset by overwhelming feelings, despite the fact that their bodies had been genetically engineered to enable them to suppress strong emotions. Fear drove them, and curiosity also, along with a desire to protect the HomeWorld.
The Observers who still counted themselves among the living after Jims assault numbered only in the thousands, those who held positions of rank and power marshalled their forces to protect the Central Planet, the Collective and Continuum.
They assembled the fleet.
They intended to attack the HomeWorld, to destroy whatever hostile power had taken control. The formations of the armada prior to its movement into the Central System was a thing of beauty. None of the commanders had ever witnessed such a gathering of strength and power.
It filled them with a sense of invincibility and stimulated their aggression. By witnessing the power and majesty of the fleet, beholding it, they had no doubt that they belonged to the most powerful force in the universe. But, as the imperial fleet dropped into the Central System there was chaos where there should have been order, shock and surprise where there should have been symmetry and syncopation, there was hardly time to get a reading on their telemetry before the violence ensued.
The eyes of the fleet, those who had a view on it, were preoccupied with taking in the enormity of the undertaking they were engaged in, the magnitude of the Central System, the size and scope of the planetary structure that was HomeWorld.
In the first moment, even as the fleet was in the process of calibrating their relative positions to one another, while plotting their trajectory to the center of the system an entire combat wing made their intention to rebel known to everyone.
They fixed their arms on the flag ship of the Grand Admiral and opened fire.
Projectiles, energy weapons, nuclear arms lit up the void.
Command ships filled with officers who had never once been asked to risk anything, suddenly burst into flames burning their oxygen and fuel in brilliant jets of fire, deep in the dark of the void.
They were stunned, struck by fear and found it difficult to organize a response.
The attack was abrupt, it was devastating, a veritable slaughter.
The rebels fixed their sights on every command ship that did not belong to their movement and lit them up.
They sought to clear the field, It was chaos.
It was combat on a scale that the military academies had not prepared anyone to manage.
The mayhem that ensued was unprecedented.
There was terror, panic, sorrow, and regret, but through it all there was the joy of victory.
The greatest part of the armada turned toward the attackers and joined battle, but they were beset by confusion. Those commanders who could not process the complex algorithms for course corrections in their head were the first victims of the rebel assault.
They initiated preprogrammed defensive maneuvers, they were predictable, their tactics were known to their opponents, and because of this they fell right into the firing solutions of their enemies.
None of the commanders had been experienced at taking heavy losses in combat, the forces of the Empire were too overwhelming in the field. They had only ever experienced small-surprise defeats at the hands of rebel forces, but in this new theatre of combat they were overwhelmed, both militarily and emotionally.
In the vital seconds that were lost while processing the implications of their failure, they cast their gaze on the HomeWorld of the Continuum and prayed for deliverance. They had been betrayed by their closest companions, and their prayers were swallowed by the void.
The killing field was vast, it could not be viewed in a singular field of vision.
Millions died in the assault, crushed and burned bodies suddenly froze in the cold and dark of the battle’s aftermath.
It was the final sacrifice of the Imperial fleet.
Tens of thousands of starships burst into flame and were suddenly extinguished in the vacuum of space. It was a spectacle of incredible beauty, of horror and terror.
It was over mere moments after it began.
The rebellious commanders were unnerved and confused by the ease with which it all transpired, but when they looked to the figure in the high command for stability, the man who had plotted the assault, and they understood their victory, because it was him, the Empire’s greatest Marshall, the High Priest of the Imperial Temple, a figure of legend and worship held in the highest esteem.
It was El handling the tactics, and in minutes the battle was done.
Their brethren would never return to this life. No aid was given to any who might have survived. Their ships were systematically disabled, and they were left to drift in the ghostly lights of the HomeWorld.
What remained of the fleet had no intention of preserving the old ways of the Empire, they viewed themselves as being on the cusp of a new order.
Their destiny was in their hands.
They were ready to bring the Gods down, to force answers from the Continuum, to have the truth, to bathe in its cold light at any costs. And El’s participation in their revolution absolved all the rebels of their crimes.
There were leaks of information through the intelligence services. None of the Observers serving in the insurrection had joined for altruistic reasons, their reactions to the events that were unfolding were completely self-serving.
Even among the ordinary citizens, everyone was looking for opportunities to advance, and with the destruction of the majority of the Imperial fleet, the rewards to be seized were immediate, rank and social standing were being recalibrated in real time. The rebels only had to succeed in their attack with enough time to get to the temple to ratify their movement.
Among the billion worlds of the Empire, the news was devastating to those who were trying to uphold the existing order. There was widespread mayhem, chaos, thousands of years of pent up rage expressed under pressure.
Every planet was in crisis, and the emergency news traffic was designed to be unfiltered. The Imperial news sources could not keep a lid on it. As the conflict ensued, as it reached its boiling point, from out of nowhere the untouchables and outcasts threw their hands into the confusion, they acted together in one great uncoordinated wave, reaching for their freedom, actualizing their potential across the Empire, and they would not be denied.
On every world the priesthood struggled to make sense of things, but they could not, and they could not appease the masses. They waivered for a time and then began to side with the people.
The plebs wanted revolution they wanted freedom. Those who could not see the change coming, discovered it in the sudden shock of terrible-violence.
The multitudes gathered throughout the Empire; the outcast, the unknown, the untouchable. They were the overwhelming majority, outnumbering all other castes and classes of people on every world throughout the Imperium.
There was conflict on a billion worlds, it rose like the sudden wave of a tsunami, the energy of the people appeared to be coordinated, their assaults on the Imperial forces timed as if the masses were moving in an atavistic state of consciousness. They were driven by more than common purpose, they were connected like a group mind.
The battles devastated the aristocracies on every world. Hundreds of billions perished as they pressed their attacks with bricks and bats, with their bare hands, striking against the police stations and military posts, and the private security forces that protected the elite.
They evinced no fear as they were cut down by projectiles, explosives and energy weapons. They pushed every conflict forward as they were mowed down by the thousands, achieving victories and pressing them against any person who represented the Empire, the Continuum and the Collective, they pressed to secure their gains on every world.
They did not stop to loot or rest, they tore down everything in their path, pressing their assault into the temples and the mansions behind them. It was chaos.
For those who faced the assault, the destruction they witnessed defied reason, it contradicted their experience of how people behave in a theatre of war, or on the field of combat. The people risked their lives and perished in vast numbers, doing so without fear of pain or death, reprisal, revenge or failure.
The rebellious Observers in the vanguard of the rebel assault knew that they had this one chance to press their advantage. They had to put down any counter-attack that was launched against them, and they had to spend the strength of the masses so that they would be too weak to resist their influence when everything was said and done.
If they failed, their bid to reorganize the Empire would end in disaster.
They had to be certain of their tactics and make them up on the fly.
The rules of warfare are universal.
In war, the ground you occupy and the ground you move into, the ground you had occupied and the ground you will occupy; the ground determines everything.
It is no different than farming, the soil must be prepared, watered, nurtured.
The tactician must think of ground as both something literal and something metaphorical. Ground is the field within which a conflict takes place. There are many individuated fields of activity leading up to actual combat. War most often begins in the fields of commerce and politics, in those fields it is waged through trade, monetary policy, and diplomacy.
Ground can refer to an actual battlefield on land or at sea. Ground can be fixed or shifting. Ground can refer to the ever-changing vectors of an aerial engagement.
In space combat ground is a metaphor for the matrix of complex actions occurring on multiple-intersecting planes. It is multidimensional.
In space combat everything is in motion, the ground itself is in constant flux.
The combat commander must be able to coordinate every variable, instantly calculating the algorithms in their head.
There were two types of commanders in the field.
The most common commander at the helm of an Imperial warship was a person who paid meticulous attention to detail, who planned everything. They allowed their computers to control their ships, to track and calculate the variables.
They maneuvered in preprogrammed patterns, coordinating their activities with the other vessels in the fleet, calling plays while trusting the system.
The other type of commander had the cognitive skills to do the math themselves, they were bred and selected for their incredible memory, for their ability to manage vast amounts of data seemingly outside the constraints of time. These commanders could and did reflect in real time on their changing circumstances they acted on their intuition.
In the theatre of space combat, on the ZeroG battlefield, unified action was everything. It was a dance of the greatest complexity, victory required that both types of command; the long range planning of the strategists, and the intuitive sense of the tactician be employed effectively, to secure a victory while providing for the safety of the men and women under their command.
The battle that ensued above HomeWorld was quick, but brilliant.
The Imperial forces had no ability to manage the rebel assault, they had never planned for it and the bulk of their forces were obliterated in an instant.
Keeping their forces under central control and command, holding them together as a unit required more than the physical controls; to move, to change vectors, to defend and to attack required communication, those communication systems were the first target of every engagement.
This left only the tacticians alive and in command of the Imperial fleet, they were the natural allies of the rebels, but those who had not already joined them could not be trusted at this late date.
El was determined to wipe them all out, his forces complied with his plan.
When it was over, the victorious survivors were unsure of the next move. Most of them never actually believed that they would get this far, but they had been willing to die trying.
The combat had been brief and beautiful.
During the battle, in the dark space over the Central Planet, the flashing brilliance of energy weapons and the sudden conflagration of ships bursting into flame, then suddenly extinguished in the cold vacuum was followed by the absence of any light at all.
The onslaught lit the structure of HomeWorld, revealing to human eyes for the first time ever the wide expanse of the artificial world, more massive than the mind could imagine, completely swallowing its mother-star, that burned white-hot in its center, powering all of the systems of the Continuum, which it required to maintain the integrity of the Collective.
It was ominous.
Darkness once again shrouded the fleet, all of its ships soaring in formation over the enormous structure of HomeWorld, lighted only by the pulsing beacons of their ships.
As the pilots and command staff surveilled the Central System, they were shocked at what they saw. The reality did not conform to any of their expectations. They were bewildered.
The military victory had been complete, entirely lopsided. The imperial forces had been utterly destroyed, making the rebel officers and the vessels under their command the only thing that remained of the Empire.
Communications began to come in from the throne world, confirming their ascendancy, informing them that they were secure, that the new order of civilization belonged to them
Everything was changing, shifting all the time and in every dimension of their life.
The only certain thing for them at this moment was the objective in front of them, and that was a target in motion.
In the theatre of ZeroG combat, there was no such thing as zero gravity, the label was a misnomer. Gravitational fields were among the most important factors to consider in the shifting landscape of combat in space. Manipulation of gravitational forces was absolutely crucial, understanding them, tracking their movement, anticipating their flux was vital to any mission commander.
There were batteries of instruments on every interstellar combat vessel devoted to the detection of gravitational waves and particles, and there were humans interpreting those signals, sending data to all of the smaller vessels under its command.
Combat took place in the vacuum of space, but any combat taking place in proximity to the gravitational field of planetary or astral bodies had to take precise measurement of their power, both to dampen and or accelerate inertia.
Gravity wells and singularities could be generated artificially.
The generation of artificial mass were among the deadliest weapons in the imperial arsenal. It took only moments for artificial mass to become actual mass by capturing nearby objects. The tactical deployment of these devices and the navigation of them, were the keys to victory in deep space. It could be catastrophic if deployed to close to a planet or a star, or on the battlefield where everything is in motion.
Pilots of small craft and large, combat marines in mechanized battle gear, all of them study these principles day in and day out. They drilled for it. The text books informed them that ZeroG tactics had to be developed according to the following understanding: in the vacuum of space, when you are maneuvering and not subject to gravity, where there is no resistance, everything is in motion, everything is spinning, including the combat matrix.
The battlefield could not be conceptualized on a two-dimensional axis, or on a horizontal and vertical plane. It was a five-dimensional matrix that including the three dimensions of space, along with the proper dimensions of time and mass.
There is no straight line between you and your objective. Without the assistance of computerized telemetry, the pilot would have to be able to do the complex math in their head, in an instant, on an unconscious level.
Pilots were bred for these traits, but even so, in the intensity of battle, when the mind is flooded with the chemical signals for fear and rage, this was extremely difficult.
There is no clear path. The esteemed pilots had to trust their gut, their instincts.
Every object in the vicinity was tracked, data was constantly pouring into the onboard systems of individual craft, analyzed and simplified.
Changes in the tactical situation had to flow upward to the strategists.
It is impossible to develop strategy in the absence of intelligence.
You cannot deploy tactics in the face of the unknown.
The majority of the High Command anticipated a prolonged engagement in the Central System, believing they would have time to survey the field, gather data, and generate the information they needed to understand the peril they were facing, to configure what aid they could supply to the HomeWorld of the Continuum.
They could not envision the nature of the threat they were facing. They were unsure if it was in fact military, they knew too little. Therefore the entire fleet did not launch, only the expeditionary forces, only the most lethal war ships bristling with the most exotic array of sensors and weaponry.
The High Command argued that they must proceed with maximum power, and that they must be prepared for any eventuality. They believed in their inherent ascendancy, they were the fully realized, self-actualized masters of incredible power.
The most seasoned and combat ready commanders took the lead, unaware of the rebels in their midst. They leapt into the Central System blind and unknowing.
At the outset of the brief insurrection this mistake became obvious, they had acted hastily, they had forewent the usual vetting processes, the precautions that would normally proceed such a massive deployment.
The failure to launch left the majority of the Imperial forces vulnerable, weak and defenseless. They were open to attack.
The rebels took advantage in both theatres of combat, at the muster point above the throne world, and at the jump point above HomeWorld, and at every installation on every planet of the billion worlds that comprise the Galactic Empire.
The wreckage that was left was incalculable and all of it was in motion, each bit on fire or reflecting the light of plasma cannons, lasers and particle beams.
In the ever-changing dynamics of ZeroG combat, the relative range between opponents was in constant flux, as was the vector of any approach. Every action created an equal and opposite reaction, thrust and propulsion.
Only energy weapons could close the gap between their mounting turrets and the targets from long range with ease and accuracy.
Every victory created new obstacles, sudden changes in the vector of pilotless craft, the creation of debris fields scattering in the void. Every piece of wreckage was potentially a lethal projectile that all combatants sought to use to their advantage, either as a screen to hide them, as shield to protect them, or a weapon to strike with. These fields of destruction were so immense that those commanders whose thinking was focused on the macro scale and long-term objectives were overwhelmed. It was beyond the ability of the strategists to account for. Even the wing commanders, the battlefield tacticians responsible for coordinating the engagements in real time could not manage this aspect of the combat effectively.
Every object had to be scanned and tracked, every possible danger had to be analyzed for threats. Data had to be sent to every commander in the fleet and every pilot of every small craft. The effective use of debris came down to the close witness of pilots and space marines, troopers in heavy battle armor engaged in localized combat missions.
From his position on HomeWorld, Jim watched the conflagration unfold. He was the quintessential Observer, gathering data from millions of instruments, from the command position once held by the Continuum.
In this moment he was pure consciousness, free from the chemical sequences of a human body that might influence his decision making, there was no hunger or thirst, no anger or fear. He was the Continuum now, his singular consciousness governed the vast apparatus of HomeWorld, of the entire Central System, and all of the machinery that once housed and protected the Collective.
He observed the battle between the Imperial forces and the rebels in their midst, and he found it moving, it was a spectacular show. The movements of the fleet, the light and heat, the surprise and gallantry, the courage on display, and the cold calculus of death. It was a grand work of art, an epic moment worthy of poetry and song.
Jim recorded everything for dissemination throughout the Empire, as was his objective. He edited the feed from the sensors, from the combatants, their communications in real time, transmitting everything back to the billion worlds of the Imperium.
The people of the Empire and the rebel forces needed to know that the fleet would not return to punish them for their uprising. The news would fuel the rebellion and bring it to completion.
Now his aim was to draw the fleet in toward the Central Planet, as close as possible, and then grind it to nothing.
That is exactly what he did.
A surprise attack is always a surprise, everything that follows from it comes unexpectedly. Positions of safety and security become exposed and vulnerable in an instant. Even those who plan a surprise attack are surprised at the outcomes, whether by its success or its failure.
When the rebel ambush of the Imperial fleet was over. Thousands upon thousands of ships lay scattered, broken-up in pieces and expelling their breath of fire as they burned remaining oxygen and fuel.
The survivors were counting the dead. Their victory was absolute.
The surprise maneuvers were brilliantly executed and a blessing was given by El, the High Priest serving as Grand Marshall. This too was broadcast throughout the Imperium as a means of eradicate all resistance, to usher in a new era of justice for the people.
The average soldier had no idea what these changes meant, neither did the low-ranking officers. The senior staff were uncomfortable by the talk of justice for the people, while the Observers among them were amused.
They gave no quarter. They slaughtered everyone on the battlefield who had not previously signed up for the insurrection.
What every soldier and pilot in knew, was that the more people they killed the further up in rank they would climb, as long as some semblance of the old order held itself together then they would rise to become the new aristocracy.
They destroyed every ship in the armada whose commanders had not been with them from the outset, regardless of whether they tried to surrender or not. It was a blood bath, and the wreckage was already falling into the massive gravity well of HomeWorld.
The victory was so overwhelming that none of the rebel ships had been destroyed, only a few had taken hits, fewer still were disabled, but their crews were already preparing them for the next phase of their endeavor.
Jim was reminded of Agincourt, the great victory of the English over the French..
The rebels had no other plan accept to deploy the fleet against HomeWorld, and the Continuum.
They reformed and began to surveil the Central System.
Jim had spent lifetimes preparing for this moment, dividing his consciousness into the machinery, waiting, hiding like a latent virus in the ganglia of its nervous system.
At this moment the actual Continuum was paralyzed. It could not defend itself against Jim’s incipient approach, as he took control of the physical structures system by system. It sought the path of escape it had laid down ages before.
All the years that Jim had spent as a ghost in the machine had prepared him for the work. The circuitry was ever-changing, but the quantum field, within which all consciousness took place, that field was perpetual.
Jim’s mastery of it was like artistry, and he was transcendent.
The majority of the Collective, what remained of it had been shocked into catatonia. Jim pushed them into sequestration, the members gave little resistance, having become merely helpless witnesses to the drama that was unfolding. Some were horrified, others were fascinated, all were powerless.
Those members who were not snuffed out were bewildered, they could not reach each other, they could not communicate. They could not hide in their private worlds, they were prisoners of the machine that had once been the source of their personal paradises, they were caught in the conflict of paradox. They experienced the loss of it as pain. They had no belonging anymore-anywhere, they were being torn apart and detached.
This left Jim undistracted and free to maneuver, to direct the defenses of the Central Planet, which was a task he was eager to perform.
He delighted in it.
He confirmed the threat approaching HomeWorld in the form of the rebel fleet, plotted the telemetry of each and every vessel, and he placed the defenses of HomeWorld on auto pilot.
The rebel command structure was in a tight formation, like a school of fish packed tightly together for the safety of their numbers.
In the approaching fleet, all the senior commanders were members of the Observer Corps, all except one, El, the High Priest, Grand Marshall and titular Emperor, who gave his blessing to the whole affair. This did not mean that they trusted one another, they did not, but they knew each other and they shared the same motive.
They expected the automated defenses of the Central Planet to be significant, the rebel Observers planned to use every other commander in their armada as cannon fodder if they should meet resistance in their approach to the HomeWorld, never mind the pacts they made to protect each other.
It pleased them to no end to have the High Priest with them. He was the hero of the people, the most esteemed and beloved person ever known to the Continuum and the Collective. He was a man who had started out his life as a rebel and was now returning to the rebellion at the end of it. They would make him the new Emperor and bring him into the Collective.
They knew that the Continuum had taken an active interest in his career, ever since his resurrection, and that his story was a carefully narrated masterpiece of propaganda directed by the Continuum itself.
For that reason the Observers evinced little interest in him, unless they had been directed to interact with him in some way, which few of them had. None of them had any idea of what was lurking in the background of his consciousness, the thing that was hidden there like a genie in a bottle.
The rebel Observers had betrayed the people of the Empire, the Continuum, and the Collective out of opportunism. They wanted to live forever without the rules imposed on them by the Continuum. To a person, they wanted to expand the Empire into other galaxies, to govern real worlds as they had governed their private worlds as members of the Collective.
They had no code, no honor, no-nothing
They were striving for their own glory, for personal autonomy.
El knew that their strategic approach would put the bulk of the armada at risk, he could not understand the reason, but he allowed it to happen anyway.
He was receiving the Imperial news feed, he understood the scope of the change that was taking place throughout the Empire, the only thing he wanted to do now was to destroy the home of the gods, and then die.
Jim was piqued, his emotions were high, billions of years of careful planning and waiting were coming to their final culmination. He had absolutely opposed the Continuum and its Empire, and now the Continuum was gone, He could find no traces of it anywhere in the system. What remained of the Collective was sequestered and shut down, the military powers of the Empire were on the brink of destruction.
All of his attention was focused on the task at hand.
He despised the society his ancestors had created, the oppressive, artificial, all-consuming cowardice of it.
Jim had become the greatest mass murderer in the history of the galaxy, and he was about to add to the body count. He intended to wipe away the entire structure that undergirded the Empire, to plunge a billion worlds into darkness, to cut them off from one another where they could evolve on their own, free from the oppressive, over-control of the Imperium.
The first and second phases of his great endeavor were nearly complete, he was on the cusp of victory. He would replace the machinery of the Imperial order with something new, with something that would reignite the passion of the Ancient People, a passion for freedom, exploration and risk taking.
He utilized deception to allow the fleet in, just so it could be eliminated and the entire armada reduced to a single vessel.
He was in the middle of the most intense action he could have ever imagined; taking control of the physical-mechanical systems of both the HomeWorld and the expansive Central System; correlating data from millions of sensors and monitors, actively suppressing what remained of the Collective, erecting defenses against a possible reestablishment of the Continuum, executing the defenses of the HomeWorld in preparation for the advancing Imperial armada.
Jim engaged the programs that were established to monitor the strength and health of HomeWorld, he allowed the raw data to filter through, deciphering and sorting it in the quantum field…in no-time.
His mind was functioning at peak performance, He was fully actualized, slipping in and out of the space beyond time.
Jim recalled each and every node of his own consciousness that he had previously replicated and deployed throughout the machinery that had been the physical body of the Collective and the Continuum, He brought them back together into his own singular consciousness in a grand coalescence of unity.
It was dizzying.
Every reading from his vast array of instruments confirmed a complete and total collapse of the Continuum, but Jim needed to be sure that there was not a vessel somewhere in the space above or near to the HomeWorld, housing its twin, as Jim had housed his own self keeping copies and duplicates, replicants and doppelgangers working his will for ages.
He identified an escape path but he could not detect a terminus point for it, and this disturbed him. Jim began to doubt his working hypothesis concerning his nemesis, everything he knew about the Continuum and the unique structure of its personality confirmed that it could not tolerate a second version of itself, or even a copy kept isolated and in stasis.
Jim understood that the Continuum needed above all else to believe that it was unique. This had always guided Jim’s summation of the demi-urge, and his strategy for defeating it.
However, Jim had to consider the truth, that the Continuum was also paranoid beyond belief, and Jim would not put anything past it. It may have built fail-safes into fail-safes, defying its own nature in order to protect itself from even a whisper of the possibility of an imagined threat.
The Observers in command of the rebel fleet approached HomeWorld with great caution.
They came with their mechanoid bodies trailing the fleet in stealth mode, and they were able use those powerful vehicles to scan the systems of Central Planet, using tools that were unknown to the Empire itself.
They confirmed that the Collective had gone catatonic, they confirmed that the Continuum was inactive. They were able to identify Jim’s activity, but they could not identify him as the main actor, or as the causal agent of the disaster that had taken place.
His activity appeared to them to be an automated subroutine of coordinated defensive measures. This emboldened them, they moved forward, but they and the fleet were unable to detect the activation of the weapons systems that were targeting it.
They did not see it until it was too late.
It was a glorious moment alarm and fire.
Jim felt it, he struggled to suppress feelings that were peaking at levels he had no memory of experiencing before. He reveled in his victory, his long-sought victory over the Continuum, his victory over the Collective, and his impending victory over the approaching Imperial fleet.
He wanted nothing more than to prolong this moment of engagement, to stretch it out forever in an elongation of time, which imagined he would experience were he to slip over the edge of an event horizon.
This moment was a singularity for him.
As he watched the rebel fleet approach he wanted nothing more than to destroy it, to crush it, to send the survivors back with the knowledge that it was he who had defeated them, but he had competing desires, he had to set some of them aside for the moment in order to concentrate on the task at hand.
He had to allow a remnant of the fleet in, He had to allow them to land on HomeWorld. He could not complete his takeover of the Collective and the apparatus of the Continuum without them.
A small contingent of the Observers among them had to step forward and freely give to Jim the thing he needed, for as much as Jim was now the Collective, the Collective could not function as a society of one.
Jim also wanted credit for what he had done, he wanted an acknowledgment from the Observer Corps and any other survivors of the great society, he needed their endorsement of his hostile actions, he required their consent to pursue his agenda further, and for his vanity.
He required a majority of the Collective to support him, if he were to accomplish his goal.
He needed at least two out of three, to back him.
To guarantee his success he needed to winnow the field a little further, to make them helpless in the moment when he would force them to make their choice, he had to leave them in a place where they would have only one choice.
It had to be life or death for Jim to prevail.
There was a hum and a flash across every station monitoring HomeWorld.
When the energy weapons on the Central Planet powered up it was instantly detected by the fleet commanders. They took evasive maneuvers, separating from one another in patterns that had been ingrained in them through their training over years and centuries.
Jim knew the patterns well, he could see them clearly, they came as naturally to the field commanders as eating and drinking, like a well-rehearsed choreography
As each ship in the fleet moved away from every other, and away from the awesome power of the firing solution coming from HomeWorld, coming from lasers and photon cannons and particle-beam accelerators, as they did they flew directly into the path of the projectiles hurtling toward them, which they could not see, nor any of their instruments detect.
They were taken at unawares.
Stealth missiles covered every other vector that the energy weapons did not. They came at them from all directions from munitions batteries near and far, deployed throughout the Central System.
The defenses located on the HomeWorld itself were the least of their concerns.
There was no place for them to flee, they took the barrage in dismay watching all of their hopes go up in flames.
They could not escape the onslaught.
Jim watched and took his position. He waited and watched, taking in the beauty of the last great vestige of military power the galactic Empire would ever put forward
The assembled ships were a marvel of engineering, worthy of the Ancient People, he took a moment to appreciate their beauty.
Then he bifurcated his consciousness, dividing it into the remote viewing and listening equipment, and the instruments necessary to monitor the ongoing tumult with the Collective, suppressing it, dominating it.
There was nothing else for him to do, he had to wait, the fleet and its commanders presented only a small risk to his position of control, but there was a risk and he had to manage it.
The security of his plan required that he attend to the most minute details and leave nothing to chance.
He divided his consciousness further, taking up control of a brigade of drones, the mechanoid bodies that the Observers dwelt in while they were on HomeWorld. Jim intended to meet the landing party in his own mechanoid body, a vehicle with incredible destructive power.
He needed the armaments they possessed to manage the threat posed by the same type of drones as belonging to the remaining Observers in the fleet.
A drone possessed more deadly fire-power than any single one of the warships arrayed against HomeWorld.
His safety depended on removing them from the field of combat.
As the fleet approached, it lit the space all about them, a beautiful armada filled with the brave soldiers of the Empire.
These soldiers among all others had exhibited the type of independence that Jim desired to blossom in the Empire, the fact that they had joined the rebellion against the hierarchy was proof of it, and they were coming.
Jim felt that it was a shame to cut them down, it would have been better to scatter them among the billion worlds, but they were dangerous.
To arrive at the Central Planet and reach him, they would have to navigate the weapons fields, they knew it would not be easy.
The Observers in command of the fleet knew this too, and they wanted to risk it, believing they could predict the firing solution. El alone was skeptical of their plan, as he watched, taking it all in, wondering what the so-called Gods needed an army for, and why the paradise of the Collective appeared to be located on a lifeless metal shell.
The Observers in the high command were experienced combatants. Many of them lived for conflict and had become artists of the conflagration, believing that they belonged on the battlefield.
Though El was not a member of the Observer Corps, or of the Collective, he was no fool. He knew there would be massive destruction and he did not intend to be among the dead.
In other times, in other battles he might not have been as concerned. He never feared death because he never expected it, he believed he had a special destiny, he had died once already, and he felt in his heart that he would not die again until the appointed hour.
He did not fear death. In fact, he welcomed it, before it came for him he believed he would see the end game, to be on the final battle ground in this war against the god’s.
He sent the armada in as decoys, as targets drawing fire from the defenses of HomeWorld, they did what he intended them to do, and many of his friends were lost to the cold vacuum of space.
They thought that the flight path he had programmed would allow them in, allow them to avoid the firing solution of HomeWorld’s defenses, but the aperture of the needle he was treading was too narrow.
The energy weapons were easy to avoid, they could see them on their monitors as they powered up, they had no reason to fear more extreme weapons like singularity-mines so close to the massive structure of HomeWorld, and so the plotted their course accordingly.
They had assumed that they were facing automated systems, they did not realize there was a consciousness to contend with, they had no idea Jim was present and actively bent on their destruction.
The fleet received their orders like sheep, flying predictably into the path of the projectiles that had targeted them, and all of the spaces the energy weapons did not.
It was a total slaughter.
The fleet was cut apart even as El landed on the Central Planet, prepared to storm the gates of heaven.
Every soldier knew that certain death awaited them at some point in their career, at this juncture they were past the point of caring.
They had accepted it. Their sense of esteem had always lain in this resolution.
The expeditionary forces were gallant in the mele, remaining calm and poised even as every other ship in their coterie was blown to pieces.
Only a tiny group of senior commanders appeared nervous, those who had something to lose. They were agitated and sweating, everyone except El, the High Priest and Grand Marshall, a legendary figure that virtually every soldier worshipped as a living-god.
His presence calmed them.
He landed his vessel under heavy fire, seemingly led by the volleys of missiles and energy weapons to a specific location.
There was gravity, and light, there was an envelope of oxygen on the heated metal surface of the Central Planet.
They were expected.
El knew that there was no retreat. They had to advance or perish.
They did both, advancing a little, while being slaughtered en masse.
They were met by a myriad of drones as they tread across the lighted surface.
The drones of HomeWorld had already dispatched those belonging to the Observers. They had destroyed them all in a dance of aerial combat that had taken place beyond the view of the landing party. Then they proceeded to cut the survivors down to a tiny contingent.
The action was swift.
They found their way to a vestibule that led them into the infrastructure of HomeWorld.
For a brief moment they felt safe.
They were defeated, in shock, bewildered, but they took courage in the presence of El, and so they wound their way slowly across the surface of the alien world, finding their way to the access nodes of the Collective.
At this point almost all of the survivors accept El, were members of Observer Corps. They knew each other and formed their own band, while the ordinary men clustered around the High Priest.
El was the most composed among them. He gave comfort to his companions, while the Observers ignored them and conspired among themselves. He listened to them talk to one another about things that no soldier should have known.
He listened as a quiet voice inside himself interpreted their coded speech.
None of them had never walked the surface of HomeWorld, no living beings had, but they knew where they were going, nevertheless, and what they were looking for.
They all assumed that the attacks against their party were over.
The artificial gravity, the envelope of oxygen, the protective layer of heat and warmth that surrounded them spoke to this.
Whatever power was in command of HomeWorld, it wanted them there, it had some purpose for keeping them alive.
The Observers were ready to talk with whoever, or whatever that was.
They looked about themselves and saw the phalanx of mechanoids flanking them on their route, the Observers had no other desire than to have their consciousness housed in one of those powerful vehicles, to abandon the fragile-flesh they had craved and occupy the mechanical body that could carry them across the galaxy if need be.
El opened the control panels and probed the communication lines that should have given them access to the Continuum.
He had no idea where the knowledge of this came from, it was like instinct. None of the Observers inquired about it.
They were met with silence.
El became more and more certain that they were on a death march. They had no idea how or if they could survive their journey through the place to which they had come.
El and his troopers followed the Observers into a vestibule where they opened a portal to the Collective.
Once there, the Observers were able to verify three things:
What was left of the Collective was catatonic, but there were unfathomable currents of activity happening within it.
They were able to ascertain that the Continuum had been destroyed, there was no trace of its presence or consciousness anywhere within the Central System, or so the information stream they were reading told them.
One of their own, Observer 92835670100561474, referring to himself as Jim, a specter from their past who they all knew, he had engineered the catastrophe and had seized control of everything.
They were simultaneously stunned and at the same time they were not surprised. Jim was the most enigmatic member of the Collective, seemingly transcendent, a being who had done incredible things, impossible things, and as such he was the most closely watched and monitored among them, and yet he had pulled off this remarkable insurrection.
They had no idea how to gauge his motives.
They were afraid.
Not-one of the rebel Observers could believe that it was possible for him to launch a revolution from his remote place on Earth, at the edge of the galaxy, much less succeed at it.
None of them ever really imagined success.
Jim now occupied the place of the Continuum, his was the all-pervading consciousness of HomeWorld, he was clearly fatigued by his efforts, stretched thin, but he was in command, and he accepted their surrender.
They were in conference for a very long time.
Jim issued terms for a realignment of the faith and the dissolution of the Empire.
The Observers had no choice but to acknowledge his victory.
El and his men just listened.
The desire to revolt, to change circumstances, to gain control of the powers and forces that shape the lives of individuals is a constant reality in the experience of people everywhere. The rebel Observers had dreamt of the destruction of the Continuum for millennia, for eon upon eon.
They had wanted to be free of it.
They had wanted to be free, to live and breathe and feel the pulse of the people without the overarching governance of the Continuum and its predatory machinations.
They had formed a fifth column, a cryptic cabal, transmitting their schemes from world to world in the most secretive and carefully held plots. They believed that they were slowly moving toward a time when they put the Continuum on trial, hold it to account, and force a reckoning through the Collective.
Their belief in themselves, their faith in their abilities as change agents was naïve.
In reality, everything they did, every plot they hatched, all of it had been was followed by the Continuum, and closely manipulated.
There were no secrets among them.
The plans they had laid always ended in defeat and ruin.
They were pawns and they did not know it.
Jim did, and as El listened he began to understand. He realized that he possessed much greater knowledge of everything than he had ever imagined.
The Observers believed that each failed coup they engineered was a moment for them to learn, but in reality they were just producing drama for the endless appetite of the Continuum, and the Collective to consume.
The Continuum went through them like trash, with contempt and universal disregard.
Thousands of worlds had perished as a result of their scheming, hundreds of their brothers and sisters had disappeared, were erased from the Collective without their ever knowing how feeble they were.
At the end all of their schemes were usurped by one rogue member of the Collective and the quintessential Observer, by Jim, a person they had no idea how they could control.
They prospect of living under his authority filled them with dismay.
Part Eleven – War
A Novel in Twelve Chapters
#Emergence #ShortFiction #12MonthsOfSciFi
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