“Summon the Marquis de Vela.”
“It is spoken!”
The First Chamberlain Inferior, Acting Subdeacon of Light and Word, leaned upon his crooked staff of office and nodded his mitred, jeweled head solemnly to Lady Vortex of the Interstitial Whispers. She stood slowly, her pale mask animated by a wash of color like a peacock’s tail, her eyes hooded. Her skirt, waves of shimmering material that defied all attempts to focus directly on it, spread like an incoming tide until it enclosed the space around her in a dome of color and light.
The skirt became alive with the scurry of myriad creatures.
Onto the translucent marble floor tucked and rolled a tiny putto, complete with cherubic smile and tiny feathered wings. He cleared the still-writhing skirt and gracefully came to his feet. Lady Vortex’s skirt quieted and rolled itself back into its merely voluminous original size.
Lady Vortex raised one hooded eye, and the putto, eyes fixed on her face, rose improbably on its tiny wings and flew. An ornate window, paned in sheets of gems and crystal and standing 50 meters high, opened behind and above the Imperial Majesty as the putto approached, enough for him to exit with alarming alacrity.
“Alphonso, even now, wings his way to the Imperium Lux,” Lady Vortex spoke in a voice of honey and ice, “and shall cause to be issued a summons to the Marquis de Vela.”
“My dear lady,” came a voice from the Throne of Imperial Majesty, “most chaste and powerful mistress of the Interstitial Gates, Lioness of the Between, Sender of the Messages both mortal and eternal, pray, when should we expect the Lord Marquis?” A slight pause. “You may dispense with all but the first 50 honorifics of imperial address to my person, and answer plainly.”
Behind her mask, Lady Vortex and her extended brain, present in her creatures and, indeed, in much of the throne room’s furniture and all of one of the many massive sub basements, brooded. A thousand suns even now were being consumed to open the Gates; space would be delaminated for a hundred million light years; the interstices would disrupt countless systems and worlds; billions might die.
The first 50 imperial honorifics, including references to lordship of supernovae, the making of galactic collisions and the righteous conquest of thousands of clusters and structures, took only 15 minutes despite Lady Vortex’s unhurried drawl. She, including her extended mind, had finished the calculations after 12 minutes. “Oh Light of the Imperium, Cause Supreme of Harmony and Death Merciful yet Fell of the Unenlightened: the Marquis de Vela can be expected in 11,432.51 standard years!”
“Then we shall have need of entertainment. Summon the Seneschal of the Holy Accoutrements.”
Far below the throne room, with its towering windows, sky-like vaulted ceiling held up by pillars of living water, filled with a light both subtle and powerful, in a sub basement dark and cramped, machines moved. A tiny figure, illuminated only by the light of a heads-up display, moved one hand.
Lady Vortex, who stood stock still, somehow froze. Could the Imperial Command have been inadvertently directed toward her? The Seneschal was stored well within this current effective frame of reference. Invoking interstitial delamination would be extraordinarily wasteful, even for this court. And the effort would kill her…
“It is spoken!” The First Chamberlain Inferior, Acting Subdeacon of Light and Word, leaned again upon his crooked staff of office and again nodded his mitred, jeweled head solemnly, this time to a Knight Pre Imminent of the Sidereal Garter, who bowed impossibly so that his cheek, freed from his Helm Imperial for the purpose, was on the floor. His armor, a swirl of light and metal, clanked musically – for thus it was designed – as he stood and marched out down the miles long throne room nave.
The Lady Vortex nearly allowed herself a sigh. Reinspiritualizetion was such a pain.
By the light of the display, the lone man’s face twitched. He dare not even think – parts of his mind, untrustworthy parts, were integrated into small nooks and crannies of the throne room and thus accessible to the Court. For reasons his conscious mind was not and could not be allowed to think, he pushed a particular spot on his left wrist with his right index finger. The command to do this action was encoded in certain proteins and enzymes, keyed by stereoisomers that mirrored natural chemicals but behaved differently when faced with their biological targets: the keys no longer fit the locks.
They fit other locks. These they turned. His left hand, a blur in the dark, cramped sub basement, shot forward and began manipulating data and instructions. The man’s mind was blocked from noticing. The man’s mind was dying as his right hand ran through a series of commands to the machines and minds throughout the imperial palace, which were systematically being fractured and disabled. He continued to summon the Seneschal, his right hand unaware of what his left hand was doing.
The man’s instructions could only propagate at the speed of light, to late for the thousand suns dying now at the Emperor’s whim. It would be many millennia before the outer systems discovered they were free; many millions of years before the entire Imperium knew. The remnants of his people, whose sun had been consumed in the sending of a message announcing the winner of an imperial card game, would most likely be extinct before they knew. It did not matter; his mind was prevented from even thinking it. Gates were being closed, and welded shut.
The man’s mind stuttered to a halt.
11,432.509 standard years later, the Seneschal of the Holy Accoutrements entered the throne room, carrying such fripperies and baubles as might amuse the court. Four meters tall and dressed in a tall hat, a gray coat that hung to the floor and writhed with patterns, and black boots, his eyes spunn like pinwheels in his long, gaunt face. His entire body was constructed of independent creatures, each built to both add to the Seneschal and perform possibly amusing tricks. Some would scurry off now and again, then climb back into place as he strode the pavement.
The Seneschal came before the throne, his mind clouded. On the floor to the right stood the First Chamberlain Inferior, Acting Subdeacon of Light and Word, leaning motionless upon his crooked staff of office. To his right stood Lady Vortex, her mask frozen into the faintest hint of surprise. Several Knights Pre Imminent of the Sidereal Garter stood guard without moving. Invisible on his throne, shadowed by the Imperial Splendor, sat the Emperor.
Deep within the dark sub basements, on a machine poised and suspended for over 10,000 years, a final tumbler fell.
Suddenly, a shimmer filled the air between the Seneschal and the the throne. With a loud, undignified *pop* the Marquis de Vela reached the end of the delaminated intersticial, and fell unceremoniously to the marble floors. He raised himself up on one arm, and felt his head.
Lady Vortex gasped. She could not feel her extended mind. Her human mind, what was left of it, took in the scene and knew. He mask went dark and fell clanging to the floor, revealing the face of a startled girl.
“I can’t move,” mumbled the First Chamberlain Inferior, Acting Subdeacon of Light and Word, still leaning upon his crooked staff of office. Forgetting protocol, the Marquis de Vela spoke in the Imperial Presence, going so far as to omit even the first 25 honorifics. “What, what has happened? Why am I here?”
Several animate pieces of the Seneschal of the Holy Accutroments chose this moment to fall from his coat and clatter and chatter upon the floor before scurrying back to disappear in the swirling patterns. From the Throne, hidden within the Imperial Splendor, a small confused voice answered, “I don’t know. I can’t seem to remember.”