By Todd Drashner
Published in Voices Future Tense Issue 19 (2012)
The ancient fortress was buried deep beneath the roots of the mountain. Built to resist even nuclear attack, it was a vast complex of bunkers and armored chambers overlaid by solid bedrock. Invulnerable, unassailable, and fallen to the State long ago.
Deep within this testament to the States power, a period of questioning was passing.
The man strapped into the interrogation chair was nearly broken now. With drugs, and pain, and merciless persistence the questioners had driven him to a state of near unconsciousness and beyond. And then brought him back again. And again. Now they were feeling rather proud of themselves. Soon now, very soon, they were sure the man would break. Then they would drain him of any likely sounding secrets, perhaps even some of the secrets of the Spacers, before sending his corpse back to those arrogant interlopers with their ridiculous notions: equality of the peoples, equality of genders, worshiping soulless machines.
This demonstration of the State's power, of its ability to touch anyone, even (especially) those who aligned themselves with the outsiders and their heretical ideas, would remind the common people of who actually owned this world. And inject some long overdue humility into the Spacer's dealings with Those Who Rule by Right.
In a single heartbeat, the mountain ceased to be. One moment it was there, a massive, stolid block of immutable stone. The next it had been ripped to fragments and gravel. The pieces of the mountain, and all it had contained, were snatched away in an expanding spherical wave that a moment later reshaped itself into a swirling column of debris extending kilometers into the air. Within that column rock and dust, pieces of concrete, and machines that had been surrounded by concrete spun and spun. And mixed among them were other pieces as well. Pieces that writhed, and shouted, screamed and convulsed. For as vast and complete as the destruction of the mountain had been, as yet no one had died. No one had even been mildly injured. Yet.
The great pillar of pulverized rock continued its slow gyration. Yet at its base, at the very center of the storm was a point of absolute stability. A point where the wind did not howl with the passage of swirling rock and screaming people. A point where a nearly broken man still slumped in an interrogation chair and where now shocked interrogators fought not to huddle in terror.
From above the column four objects fell. Two were larger and appeared as swirling clouds. Two were small, compact, and spindle shaped. All fell swiftly but deliberately toward the watchers below before slowing abruptly and coming to a gentle landing bracketing the man in his chair. In the last moment before touching down each underwent a transformation.
In an eye-wrenching swirl of unfolding twists the two smaller objects became two human-sized machines, roughly human-shaped. While the two clouds coalesced, one into a soft-looking chair, the other into a young woman, barely more than a child in appearance.
Before the shocked eyes of their observers the two machines moved to the man and snapped his bonds before bearing him gently up and laying him upon the chair, which conveniently reclined as he was settled into it. Shimmering tendrils and mists rose from the chair and surrounded the man, who sighed and seemed to relax as if his pain were gone. Watching closely, a keen observer might have noted his wounds already starting to heal.
The young woman, after observing this operation, turned toward the clustered men and fixed them with a stern look.
"Gentlemen," she said, in a tone of mild rebuke and absolute soul-crushing confidence, "I am Orion. And I am not amused."
In a burst of panic, one of the men snatched the gun from the holster at his hip, aimed, and fired a rapid series of shots at the woman from near point-blank range, thunderous detonations pounding the air. For a moment there was silence, a pause just long enough for all to see the bullets hanging suspended in space, for the shooter's eyes to widen in realization and dawning horror. Then man, gun, and bullets were snatched away, dwindling to a dot that flew up and away into the maelstrom. A faint echo of a scream carried briefly on the wind and then was gone.
The woman hadn't moved or even appeared to notice.
"Ok guys, let's get this clear. I'm a patient god, but there really are limits. Running around kidnapping and torturing your own people is completely over the line. You may not like the elimination of what passes for your culture on this pitiful mudball, but it's happening and you're going to do nothing more about it. It took a little time, but this part of me is here now; and your little power wank is over."
"What? Who? How?" The Lead Inquisitor was trying to fight through the waves of shock that still gripped him. He was failing miserably. His eyes were drawn upward to the passing walls of dirt, machinery, and squalling people. "I, I, my…Gods…"
"Your gods had nothing to do with this, kids. This is all yours truly. Now listen up. Here's what you're going to do."
"You're all going to go home, sit back, and wait quietly until the new government I'm creating shows up to cart you off to jail or execution. We'll decide which at the trial. You will cooperate with them fully and offer absolutely no resistance. Your people will enjoy that."
"In the meantime, we're going to take your culture apart and put it back together again. No more torture. No more rape gangs to amuse the leaders. No more seizing anything or anyone you take a liking to. That's all over now."
"Your world is going to join civilization, and play nice with civilized people. And you are not, repeat not, going to be taking any more shots, literal or otherwise, at anyone else ever again."
"Because next time, I won't be a patient god, or a merciful god, anymore."
A rush of wind and they were gone. Followed a moment later by a rush of an entirely different sort as all the rock, debris, and screaming people snapped inward toward the men, flashing toward them with crushing force. They screamed and cowered.
And then the room, minus its former captive, was back the way it had been. The mountain was back the way it had been. Every rock, every machine, every bit of dust and terrified staff person was back exactly where they had been before this all began. The exception was a considerable amount of bodily fluids that had been voided when free-fall descended so abruptly. Perhaps mercifully, this was not put back where it had been before the incident, and was eventually found to have ended up in the fortress sewer system. This, if anything, was even more disconcerting.
The exodus from the mountain began only minutes after Orion's departure and was never reversed. In the end, the ancient fortress would become an abandoned warren, forgotten even in the histories, crumbling slowly under the weight of the settling mountain.
So ended the last resistance of the State to the coming of the Sephirotic Empires.
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