(8 Months After the Cadence Affair)
The conference was a dangerous one. Too many important people all in one place.
Salem Attar believed wholeheartedly in compartmentalization. It was a useful tool in keeping his players focused on their singular tasks. Squadrons need only see the battlefield. Generals need only see the theater. Tacticians need only see materiel. And his children should only have needed their separate worlds. But that was another matter altogether.
It was expedient today, however, to break the walls of compartmentalization for the sake of measuring final readiness. There was a place for secrecy, and Salem made sure none of that entered into this meeting. He needed his top Generals and Tacticians to synchronize the last of their plans before they made the march. In Real Time, the hour was far too close for Salem's tastes. While he had functional eternity in the deeper parts of this fold world, it all would align when the clock struck zero hour. Then a hundred more years of Relative Time wouldn't do a damn thing for his march.
Thus, he risked it all to bring together this group. If by some small chance his enemies were stealing here now, this was the most opportune time to end it all.
This is getting far less entertaining since my younger years scheming with my cousin. One world barely wet my taste. All of this…
When will it finally be over?
"Eight-Oh-Ninth and Twenty-Thirty-Two Armored Divisions are at maximum readiness," said the Forward Tactician. She was a small woman named Lindita. In addition to her duties, she also bore three of Salem's chronometric warriors. Though he hadn't planned that at the time—a happy bonus. "That completes the twenty Frontline Divisions ordered from the forges."
"That more than matches yield estimates for frontline action," said General Lopez. "With those Armored Divisions we'll have maximum efficiency out the gate."
Salem nodded, gesturing to his Wing Commanders and their assigned Tacticians. Three more women in their group also bore warriors for Salem; those intentionally. He listened to them spout off facts and correlate with their counterparts in the armed forces. So many logistics; so much to organize. But the numbers were on their side. They always were. If they faced upwards of fifty percent losses in the first strike, that would leave him with enough to finish the campaign and hold each territory with strength to spare.
As the rest of the council reported their status readiness, Salem let his eyes drift to the various mistresses he took into his bed over the years. He was surprised to find that their bodies didn't appeal to him today. He was tired—that was the simple reason. He didn't have time to fill his imagination with passions or desire. All he needed were green light reports and certainty that his final figures added. Then he would rest.
Did Gods need rest? Did they tire from the worlds they built and destroyed? Was there an eventual end to the strife when he could finally look out on his creation with satisfaction? Salem found himself surprised to hope so.
Did you struggle in lethargy like this, Charlie? When you built your empire, did you find days burnt out like this?
The obvious answer was no. She dreamed just large enough to play her games and then blow it all on lusts. Narcotics, men, and the blood of the tortured were her sport after she finished empire building. She could never have dreamed this large. It would have defeated the whole purpose of her games. Sometimes Salem wondered if his cousin hadn't conquered the world once upon a time simply to see if she could do it.
She couldn't have played God. She couldn't have carried the fates of billions in her schemes and hunger. And Salem realized he almost couldn't either.
But weary or not, it was all here on the table. It was all ready for the zero hour when it came time to march. Everyone he put into place reported their affirmation that his foundations were solidified. His long, industrious years were coming together at last.
Then the moment of weariness passed.
Salem sat up straighter, listening as General Kosinski finished his report. His was the last one. The numbers and figures were in; combining on the holo-display hovering at Salem's left over the table. His army was all there. Everything from the deepest reach of the fold world to the garrison on the staging areas was ready to march.
"You have all proven worthy of our enterprise," said Salem. "There are worlds without number ready for your dominion when this is over."
He didn't need to watch to feel the surge of relief and enthusiasm from his chosen heads. Each of them brimmed with it—relieved to know they hadn't failed their God. Eager to prove themselves on the battlefield. And looking forward to a taste of the divinity Salem promised them. Theirs would be an empire to span hundreds of realities. And Salem would govern as their head from Real Space.
He turned to his immediate right and immediate left. Hakim and Kamal sat with obvious disinterest at their places beside him. In his elder son, he felt the inherent boredom; the wish to return to Hallow and his many kingdoms therein. In the younger son, he felt the staggering anxiety and cowardice. That was almost the greater of the two sins, if not for Hakim's distinct ungratefulness.
His sons sat up, aware of his attention on them.
"Kamal, I gave you guard over the outer sphere in the fold world. Hakim, I gave you command of the forges of Hallow. What do you have to say for yourselves?"
"Hallow is in its proper place," Hakim grumbled. "I am revising a few security issues along the back channels. I am also setting traps for enemy scouts. We have precious targets in our sights."
Yes, Hakim had games of his own to play. Vendettas he sought for the property he left behind. Fool. Couldn't he see the grander scheme? Couldn't he see that there were far better rewards beyond one pitiful world in rebellion? It was so disgraceful that he hardly noticed Kamal's muttered reply on operations around the citadel superstructure. For a coward who hid from a world he let burn, at least he could be competent when needed. And despite his pathetic fears, he managed to distract forces in Real Space long enough for Salem to finish his preparations.
That was more than he could say for Hakim.
"This council is adjourned," said Salem. "We will convene in forty-eight hours for initial launch. Have your aids and seconds in position."
The audience murmured their general assent and began dispersing. Salem remained at his head seat, raised above the others, watching as they filed out. He was relieved when the familiar tug of his daughter remained at her place in the far right corner. When the others were gone, she marched to stand beside him.
"Suha, I am displeased with your elder brothers."
She clasped her hands behind her back wordlessly. The general air of displeasure in her emotions was enough of an answer. Though she was the last of his first generation of God-Children, she was perhaps the only champion of his careful breeding. The only child that could take upon herself the mantle of Godhood.
"They dabble in such petty interests and fears," he said. "And Hakim…he won't let go of these worlds I give him. He won't look forward. He can only see his little schemes in the now."
"They will be removed."
Salem arched an eyebrow in surprise. Suha was always so quiet as a child. She finally found her voice after years of training and tempering unbelievable power. And it often left him with a chuckle at her boldness. She was a woman of vision.
"They will be forgotten," he replied. "When this is over, whatever reward they see fitting of their efforts they shall have. To some, they will seem gods. To us…we shall leave them behind."
Suha nodded once silently.
Salem stood, wrapping an arm around her shoulder, and leading her around to the balcony. Out towards the view of the deeper folds in the sky above, surrounded by a maelstrom of detritus and leftovers from the worlds he created. That was a dangerous place, and not simply because of its proximity to the edge of eternity. If anything were to harm it…so much would go undone.
"Suha, I must set you one last time to the heart."
She followed his gaze. There was real apprehension; honest trepidation in her emotions. But it was swallowed up in her steeled resolve. A resolve Salem wished he saw in his sons.
"You will go deeper than ever before. You will experience a thousand lifetimes and the pains of your labors. You alone will hold the seed to our glory."
Suha knew well what was expected of her. The endless breeding; the unending children of deity needed to augment their armies. Salem couldn't count how many women he slept with; how many he returned to in order to produce the scores of children and grandchildren now scattered among the ranks of infantry. It helped that there were chronometric genes in these expansive worlds. It gave him stock to see the effort through.
But it wasn't enough. Salem was only one man—though a God at that. And his place was on the battlefield, seeing the conquest of Real Space and all worlds through to the end. He could not dwell here forever in perpetual breeding.
Suha could. She could sink into the deepest part of this created world where time wrapped endlessly. Where life and death were nearly the same, and her youth retained by the infinite energy compounded. There, with her concentrated chronometric power and her greatest asset—her motherhood—she could provide endless stock.
"A reality-machine," said Suha.
"It will be an eternity for you," he said. "But I can promise you worlds and powers your brothers will never know when it is over. You will have paid the price to be God. As I have."
She simply nodded once.
Salem worried for her. But not too much. God couldn't debase himself with mortal concerns. She would endure the process and it would elevate her. And finally, when their work was done, all worlds under their dominion, Salem would see this place destroyed.
There were days living in this fold world that were absolute hell. Knowing how close they sat on the edge of oblivion. Having to siphon the energy that permeated the multiverse this close to the precipice of reality. It gave him strength; it threatened their utter destruction. If the stories of the First Generation were true, there was nothing out beyond their universe but madness. It had cost him dearly to build his engines here. It would cost Suha just as dearly to sit upon the edge where time and space were stretched so thin they could cheat their mortality.
But it was necessary. It would see all their plans to fruition.
Salem squeezed on Suha, pulling her closer. His little Goddess.