An excerpt concerning Mirramarduk, for whom the lines dividing manipulator and manipulated, tyrant and slave, have blurred into a fever dream:
The line of priests moved in solemn procession, chanting their hymns to the Holy Master, immortal and mystical Prophet of the Children of God. Their voices echoed in the stone corridors of the Sanctum, whose foundation was made of the same huge, perfectly hewn stones as the Temple. Those foundation blocks remembered a time in the distant past when gods walked the earth, serving the Supreme God Almighty.
Praise God! Praise the Holy Master!
In his chamber on the upper floor of the Sanctum, the object of their praise listened and tried to recapture the sense of glory those chanted hymns once gave him. But the whispering of ghosts distracted him. Scraps of conversation, faces turning away, words on a screen. Rooms. Voices shouting from the podium, voices quietly confiding, voices pleading in the dark. They would not let him alone. He whirled to throw a resentful glare at the golden dome beyond his window—
But it wasn’t there. He felt a brief disorientation, anxiety; where was the Hall of Ozymander? Then the tumbling confusion of his mind caught up. It was destroyed. He had commanded its destruction.
Gone. Its mighty splendor, the last surviving relic of that glorious noon era was gone. And still, even after two millennia spent burying the past under heaps of rubble, they would not leave him alone.
“The Prime recognizes the Junior Counselor.”
“You’d best accustom yourself to it, Counselor, it’s not likely to change, you know.”
No, never, because the bloody old fossils in power would never surrender that power, in spite of the obvious genius and ability of one younger than they!
“Shall we vote a close of debate on the Alteration Mandate?”
The single worst, most righteously idiotic piece of legislation ever passed! He had opposed it, but would they listen? No! They even turned on their own, used it to ridicule the Prime, herself! All politics! Well, he got very good at that sort of self-serving intrigue, didn’t he? If he couldn’t rise to power through traditional means, there were other ways!
“Blessed stars, you mustn’t tell anyone! Promise me, you won’t tell! My reputation would be destroyed!”
A game that he excelled at. It was amusing, entertaining, a way to pass the wretched centuries. But he had to keep thinking of new ways to play it, new twists, new gambits.
“You disgust me, Mirramarduk, thoroughly and profoundly!”
“A disgrace to our culture!”
“Don’t bother, Mirramarduk. You can’t be trusted.”
Was he any worse than the others? What did it matter in the end, when they all began to give up?
“Gone into Oblivion, have they? That’s it then. So much for a quorum.”
The Holy Master stood up and lurched across the room, his hands clutching his head. Roaring pain tore through his mind like a windstorm through an empty street. He fought for control.
“I outlived you all!” he panted. “I outlived you all! I am a god, worshipped, triumphant! I have remade the world and it is mine! I rule absolutely! I am Lord!”
Lord of what, Mirramarduk? Lord of beasts.
I could have been great! I could have been Prime!
Could have been. Dust. What are you? Lord of beasts.
He whirled around and gripped the edge of the basin, staring hard into the gilt-framed mirror. The sight of his own divinely perfect face steadied him. Here, now, still at the prime of life, still all he once was, oh, so beautiful! A face and body to inspire paintings, sculptures, holographs of sublime genius, creations which the artist then destroyed in a fury of unrequited passion. So many had adored him, had hung onto his every word and sworn eternal love to him. Cheap love. Easy love. Common currency simply procured. Now who loved him?
This race of foul apes, these pale-skinned vermin who grunted and sweated and scratched themselves, who hatched their petty little plots and pursued their childish vendettas, tormenting and murdering each other and looking to him with dull-witted expectation, slack-jawed with awe, shifty-eyed with suspicion, needing to be impressed in a way that would be meaningful to their vile, violent understanding. Bloody, wretched, miserable animals!
“Lord, the armies of the Evil One are invading! The City is on fire!”
“How can God allow this?”
He screamed at them as they fled into the Outlands. “God did not permit it! You did! You who did not fight hard enough in His name! You who did not purge the rebels from your midst! You who allowed the armies of demon-worshippers to grow into this hideous force! You! You shall know God’s wrath for this failure!”
And the miserable creatures suffered and starved, because they had to eat every day like animals, and didn’t know any better than to drink polluted water. He watched them die with supreme satisfaction. He didn’t need to eat, and knew enough to boil his tea, remaining healthy and strong with the herbs that supplemented his body’s needs. And he waited.
He knew they would return to him. Tristramacus was a warrior, one of that bull-headed class of cunning brutes who loved the fight but had no patience for the tedium of leadership. He left the victors to rule themselves, and eventually they began to drift back to Mirramarduk, to the mysteries of what he represented. The ignorant apes preferred the glorious lies that he could spin for them. They set him on the throne once more.
“I have beaten you, Tristramacus! I will never let you rise again! Give up, and go into Oblivion with the others!”
And then what? And then what?
Screaming anguish tore through his mind again, driving him to his knees, whimpering, “I am Lord! I am Master!”
Meaningless, all of it meaningless.
Waste and futility.
Outside the door of the chamber, the High Priest Khirk stood listening. The Holy Master was having one of his fits again. They had begun after the last purge, when the Temple was torn down, and they were growing more frequent. It was dangerous to attempt to approach the great being when he was in this state. Now would not be a good time to speak with him about the woman.
But Khirk listened at the door, puzzled and fascinated by the disjointed words the Prophet spoke, evidently to no one but himself. When this madness gripped the Prophet he sometimes cried out as if to other gods, using strange god-like names. He spoke not with warmth but with rage, with bitter anger, as if he were the fallen one, the one cast out, frustrated and damned. It seemed to contradict everything that was in the scriptures.
There was silence now behind the door. Khirk withdrew thoughtfully, and went down to take his evening meal.