The Apes of a Cold God
And we, we Apes of a Cold God, still cherish,
With frenzied pain upon our loving breast,
The viper so voluptuously warm,
That it as Universal Form rears up,
A curse shall finish what a curse conceived
17:8, The Book of Stars, The Bible of Social Justice
Pope Jean-Paul Stalin bent his stiff neck down from looking up at the stars, and faced James Wilde. It was below freezing on the northern heath overlooking Karl Marx City, and Wilde was unsure whether the ancient holy man's lips were trembling from cold, old age, or nervousness. Stalin's cloudy breath began to rise in a silver moonlit glow.
'It's impossible James. I can see no alternative.'
'But millions will die.' Stalin paused for a second, and rubbed the back of his shaven head. Throwing the briefest of glances upward again, he shrugged his narrow shoulders.
'It's for the greater good.' With nothing more to be said, James bent and kissed the emerald ring on the Pope's proffered left hand. Stalin then scurried back towards the beckoning warmth of his nearby horse carriage, his black velvet cloak rustling over the dark clumps of rain-soaked grass. Once the carriage's door thumped shut, a pair of black Holstein horses started pulling the mahogany coach out from its muddy ruts, as their driver shook bell-studded reins.
The large iron wheels rumbled back down the track towards the People's Palace, where the twenty-year-old Empress awaited her orders. James wished she could live longer. But it was only one more year before the cardinals would flay her alive on Eurania's Salisbury Plain, just like all the others. Her necessary sacrifice would also be for the greater good.
Archbishop James Wilde lit a cigarette with a small golden lighter monogrammed with a tiny imperial eagle. Virginian peasant girls had rolled this cigarette on their tanned thighs from a special blend of his own devising; Moroccan cannabis to deaden the senses and Turkish tobacco to sharpen the mind. He looked up again at the tiny star Atlas, as it sparkled on the left side of the distant Pleiades star cluster; this stellar group swam just above, and to the right, of Taurus the Bull. Around Atlas swung the enemy planet.
At least fifty million misguided souls lived there, and Wilde was charged with killing them all. It was his duty. But after five minutes, in the gloom, he'd failed to convince himself it was his honour. The bright star twinkled as a sigh of wind brushed over Wilde's upturned eyelashes. Did this little pinprick star know what he was planning? Was it daring him to try?
Over the next hour, as it lifted up from the eastern horizon, a near-full Moon draped the Pleiades in a growing milky glow. Wilde took comfort from this. Imperial engineers had long ago emblazoned the Empire's black eagle, in scattered carbon powder, for thousands of miles across the Moon's surface. This lunar bird of prey dominated the sky; its wings spread from Mare Tranquillitatis to Oceanus Procellarum, its curved talons sliced the craters of Schickard and Janssen, and its beaked head razored the lunar sea of Mare Imbrium.
Wilde took a long last drag on a last long cigarette, crossed himself, and then flicked away the plain white stub into the wet grass. Before the cigarette's bright orange life had fizzled to a close, he'd turned his back and was marching down back into Karl Marx City, shoulders hunched, and mind focussed. As the Empire's crack general, of its crack legion, James Wilde had decided to remain unafraid of imaginary bad omens. He had a job to do.
Though she'd long forgotten her original name, Empress Rosa IX had trampled the grass as a five-year-old girl among the millions of Earth worshippers at the last sacrifice, when Empress Germaine XII had soaked the turf of Stonehenge with her own fresh blood; a peach sun had just risen, on the summer solstice of Germaine's twenty-first year.
In her last act of renewing the Empire's fertility, the skinless, sliced, and dying Empress had thrust out a left arm out towards the temple's northern Heel Stone. Pope Stalin, in a purple toga, had waited for that moment before breaking open her ribs with a golden hammer and a golden sickle; he'd then gouged out the imperial heart. Rosa could still hear the screams.
As the last clottings of blood splashed over the ancient stone altar, and the quivering muscle heartbeats faded in Stalin's wet raised hand, a line of shaven-headed and saffron-robed cardinals had snaked past the Heel Stone.
They'd crossed towards the Salisbury Plain Cursus, while acolytes strummed gilded harps, and others slapped goat-skin tambourines. The crowd parted in a frenzied wave at the cardinals' progress; it was the God-given task of these imperial elders to find a new empress.
And from the thousands of young girls pressed towards them, by thousands of feverish, naked, and wine intoxicated child guardians, they had selected Rosa for her sharp black eyes, flawless pale skin, and waist length ebony hair. Clothing her in Germaine's last blood-spattered ermine cloak, they'd strewn Rosa's path with pink rose petals and prompted her to begin the pilgrimage towards Avebury, the giant ring of Earth stones which lay across the plain towards the north-west. Once there, they enthroned her upon the Devil's triple-stone altar, at sunset, inside the centre of the temple. Since that day her duty had been to live and then to die for the Empire.
End of Chapter 1
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