7.0 - Prelude at a Secluded Spot in the Multiverse
Reality is a flexible thing, really. Although there is, perhaps, a bit of conflict in the mind over any change in it at first, ultimately it bends easily enough to the will of those who would define it. And then anything can happen. Friendship, trust, loyalty...it could all be out the window in a matter of moments. Wista Kardahiban had seen it happen many a time and, of course, always managed to profit from it.
Take the reason he stood here on this day, at this moment, in these wrappings, for example. Few residents of Mekkan Prime or the trade colonies would have given a Larnani any chance to break into the priestly ranks of the Order of Mekalech. They were a stodgy bunch, built on tradition handed down from times forgotten, an era before Mekkan and human blood mixed to give birth to the Larnani in the first place. However, he had smacked his shnecka smoothly, and eventually found a place, small and unimportant though it was, in the hierarchy of the ancient, sacred (and nearly forgotten-about) priesthood of Mekalech.
Then Mekalech himself returned. That was an interesting turn of events that he had unfortunately not been there to witness, as pathetically out of the loop as he had once been. However, his fortunes, along with those of the rest of the Larnani race, rose quickly once a group called Lesion took power. Kardahiban had never been much interested in politics himself, but made it his business to be intrigued once he saw a chance for his own advancement. This advancement came quickly, more so than the young Larnani could have imagined. Within months, he was elevated to an elite group of priests that could actually enter Mekalech's presence. That was when the squawking started.
'A Larnani? Given such high rank? Intolerable.' Those who said such things were killed swiftly.
Now within the council of the large metallic deity he had devoted his life to, Kardahiban was on hand to witness the most important discussions of interdimensional affairs. He was therefore present when the 'big plan' was hatched, a design for a new order in the multiverse. Again, there were protestations. These grew even louder when the leaders of this controversial mission were chosen. The bold individuals who spoke up about it were also killed, only this time not so swiftly.
The purges within the clergy actually exacerbated the situation, as now still more positions were opened up, and Wista Kardahiban found himself the new High Priest of the Order of Mekalech. As the Mekkan veterans among the clergy, who had only remained quiet hoping to find promotions in following the path of obedience, learned of the Larnani's new position of power, they too were dismayed. But they were not stupid enough to complain, at least not in public. Plans and conspiracies were whispered from suckers to eartubes, all in secret.
These clandestine discussions were not as far from Mekalech's sight as they might have hoped, however. There were yet more purges, and in some cases the innocent were removed with the guilty. Kardahiban often regretted the way things turned out in that regard, but it was too late to do anything other than hope he would find a parallel world where some of them were still alive. Good subordinates were hard to find, even though he had enjoyed his pick of them after taking power.
The people who sat in front of him, the commanders of this little expedition of Mekalech's, were not chosen by him, however. The selection itself was a little peculiar, but Wista had kept his thoughts on the matter to himself. There was no need to jeopardize his position over something so trivial. Besides, he had grown rather fond of the talented, if reckless, humans who had been given this crucially important task.
Rembrandt Brown stared at him, hardness in his eyes. He had never been overly fond of his new position, but he really had little choice in the matter. He had to fulfill his role in this or be executed. From what Kardahiban understood, that nearly happened once before in his life. A convicted felon for twenty years (who spent much of that time on something called death row before having his sentence commuted by a human named Governor Daley), Rembrandt had been unexpectedly freed after a Lesion attack on his world's city of Chicago. He headed a pro-Lesion 'prisoner's rebellion' that led to the capture of that city. Originally ignored by everyone other than his own earth's Larnani administrators, he eventually found himself in this position, coveted by so many in Lesion's ranks.
Sitting beside him, as usual, was Wade Welles. She rarely made eye contact with anyone other than Rembrandt, who she trusted for a reason no one really knew. Welles had come to the attention of the leadership after attempting the assassination of a Grand Alliance general shortly after the death of her fiancé in battle. She was a bit wild, but was as effective at getting things done as anyone the most powerful Larnani in the multiverse had seen.
There would have been another human rounding out their troika, but that was the reason for their meeting here today. "I am sorry for the delay." There weren't very many beings Wista would need to apologize to. These humans were just powerful enough to qualify. "But there are precautions that need to be taken. Especially now."
"Why?" Rembrandt asked suspiciously. "What's happened?"
He folded his clawed hands in front of him. "I'm afraid Generalissimo Arturo allowed himself to be baited into attacking a G.A. convoy. Half of his fleet, including the flagship with him on it, was destroyed." He swallowed three times in succession. "Naturally, the survivors will be reassigned to your control."
"Is it a lie?" Wade asked, emotion drained from her voice as usual. "Did you kill him?"
"No," he answered honestly, although her voice did tend to shake him up a little. "We would have no reason to. We do not want to endanger the project any more than you do." Seemingly satisfied, the two humans, who weren't overly fond of their British counterpart anyway, remained quiet as Kardahiban gave them some specs to look at. "Examine these latest designs. They could be helpful to you."
Wista Kardahiban stood and stared out into space, literally. Not within range of any Earth, the location of this facility was top secret, so much so that even the High Priest himself wasn't absolutely certain where he was. Discomfited for only a moment by the unfamiliar stars outside, he pressed a button that let him look at another image. It was of a thousand different worlds, swirling in a spiral pattern towards one large hole in space. He cracked a smile. They looked like marbles being flicked around by a human child's thumb.
He made himself become serious again after a moment. There would be time enough to gloat after the project was completed. Since that would likely take years, he needed to concentrate on the matter at hand. Wista looked at the expressions on the faces of Rembrandt and Wade. "I trust you like what you see."
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