Legends Of The Multiverse #1 - The Holy Signal
The Minister of the Holy Image flipped through a stack of 6 by 6 photo stock squares with palpable disinterest.
Mallard and his team sat silently and waited. The Minister reached the final photo, flipped it with disregard onto the top of the small stack of thick paper and released an aggressively hopeless sigh.
Mallard swallowed the lump in his throat. "Your eminence."
The minister sucked his lower lip and panned his eyes from face to face at the table. "Gentlemen. What we have here is a failure of faith."
With a flourish, the Minister flipped over the stack of papers, which spread in a broken line across the table. Each bore a rendition of a great fatherly figure rising out of a mountainside: Some with sword and shield raised; others with them sheathed; others still with the sword buried to the hilt in the exposed granite boulders.
Mallard suppressed the anger in his mind even as he prostrated his face to the Minister. "Your eminence, forgive us - we have debased the image of the Holy Father." The words were the same every time they presented the first mock ups of a new monument. The Minister basked in them as though spoken for the first time. Mallard concluded the litany. "Teach us, your eminence, that we may portray the Holy Father as God intended."
The Minister rose from his seat, and the great bulk of his resplendent red velvet robe unfurled over his massive torso. When he reached his full height, the Minister placed a ringed hand upon Mallard's balding head and spoke with the tone of a benediction. "Search your heart, my son. I can no more teach you to channel the vision of the Lord than I could teach a termite to feel His grace."
Mallard lowered his head until his forehead touched the cold table and felt the sweaty hand leave the bare skin of his scalp. However he did not hear the minister leave. Slowly Mallard raised his eyes and saw the ring of the church held expectantly before his face. Mallard suppressed the violence in him before it showed and kissed the ring without any apparent hesitation.
The Minister smiled and left. After a long moment, the team relaxed and the quiet cursing started in earnest. There went a week of work, strewn uselessly across the marble table. It was true, the images were redundant and uninspired, but nothing else would be accepted. They would work for another week to change small details - the breadth of a smile or the warmth in the eyes - and the Minister would remonstrate them all once again before picking the mock up that "least offended in the eyes of God."
The same as it always was. The same as it always would be.
Mallard spat the word with such reproach that all other sound in the room fled in its wake. His team turned to him in concern - none were accustomed to speaking so loudly - to do so was dangerous.
Mallard was finished. 40 years of professional, ethical and moral bending had broken him at last. The thought came unbidden, but louder and clearer than anything he'd thought before it: Fuck the Holy Father.
The deed was done and there was no point procrastinating. Mallard stood up and stared straight ahead. "You are all fired, effective immediately. Empty your desks and be out of this building by the end of the day."
The air filled with protest, but Mallard remained steadfast. There was no time to waste and whether they liked it or not, he would save his draftmen's lives. He slammed his fists onto the hard stone. "Get the hell out of this office!"
In time, disbelieving, the draftsmen left, until Mallard stood alone. At last, he began to cry. For the first time in his adult life, he felt at ease with himself.
The next morning an all point broadcast from The Office Of The Holy Image was released globally. The tentative design of the Holy Father's great edifice on the mountainside of Shen Quan - what would be the greatest monument yet to the Holy Father - was released to an expectant global public a full week early.
In homes, apartments, and hovels around the world - from the tent cities of the American West, to the grand esplinade in the center of the New Holy Empire, to the hyper dense super structures of the East Asian Fief - acolytes of the Holy Father opened their morning debriefing and saw.
From within the Vatican, the enraged scream of the Minister of The Holy Image could be heard in St. Peter's square. A sanctifying unit, blinding in all white, was dispatched to the office of the Holy Image, titanium white rifles poised to dispatch evil. They found all points of entry locked and the morning staff gathered outside.
With a burst of gunshots, the holy soldiers smashed the glass entryway and stormed toward the central dispatch room of the Holy Signal. The reinforced door was locked, and inside their visors detected the body heat of a single human being. A small charge was placed on the door.
They entered before the sound of the explosion dissipated and completed the cleansing with the uninteresting speed of practiced violence. Mallard lay in the corner wearing his final surprise and a fresh hole with clean cut edges in the front of his head.
The soldiers gathered around the central dispatcher, but could not stop the transmission. They received radio permission to blow the dispatcher, placed high explosive on several panels of processors, and left the room.
On the primary dispatch screen, locked behind Mallard's encrypted login, was a livestream of a single image bearing the caption "Long Live The King." On the mountainside of Shen Quan was laid out a great skeleton, with the Holy Sword of Justice plunged deep through its ribcage and down into the bedrock. A small monk on a mountain path stopped and pointed.
Mallard's dead eyes remained fixed on the image as the room vaporized.