Lady Gel-Dan do’Rehan, Baroness of the Vintu, sauntered through the imperial court’s thousand-foot double-doors with five hundred armoured Panragine Knights at her back, including an empty suit for the departed Lord Gel-Dan di’Jobar, the husband she’d hated even as she’d loved him, wanted him as she’d used him for the machinations of her family, the House Kando’oril, thrice-spurned from ascension to the imperial seat.
Her retinue moved slowly towards the throne. Vast crowds of attendants to the Galactic Court looked on from the aisles. This visit was no surprise. It was the foretold day for the revelation of the Zizmatz Be’Lohardan, and Lady Gel-Dan had spread the rumour far and wide that she would appear to proclaim her child was the empire’s saviour.
She reached the great seal of the God-Emperor’s house, the behemoth consuming a moon, and stopped. She was still many miles from the throne, just out of range of an ancient thunder staff (a rule that had been emplaced seventeen generations prior during the Wellobiad Rebellion). Lady Gel-Dan spoke through the amplifiers engraved into her maternity armour, and her voice echoed throughout the decamiles of the vast courtly chamber.
“God-Emperor of the Galaxy Xaxandar LXXXVII—Father of Suns, Eater of Moons, First Genocider—greetings from House On’donagar,” she dipped her head slightly towards he late husband’s empty armour, “and my own House Kando’oril.” A murmur murmured through the court. No Baroness had identified her own house while standing before the imperial court, not since Lady Zil-Fax, that is, who had both started and, to her house’s eternal embarrassment, lost the War of the Möbius Rockets.
Xaxandar LXXXVII responded, his whispering voice carried through the crowd by a cloud of nano-speakers so quiet that all in attendance were forced to hush and listen. “We return your greeting, Baroness On’donagar.” Her eyes tightened imperceptibly. He would, no doubt, have nano-kinos floating throughout the court as well and would analyze her facial expressions using psycho-engines buried beneath the imperial seat, so she did not permit herself to actually react to his obviously deliberate choice to ignore her house in favour of her husband’s.
“We recognize the alignment of the Patri-Moon with the Origin World signifies that this day is the foretold Day of the Saviour, the Zizmatz Be’Lohardan, prophesied to unite the Seven Shattered Houses, impose order upon the Seventeen Systems, and found a New Galactic Hegemony, only to consume the cosmos itself after one-thousand years of rule. Our Hyper-Popes have foreseen your claim, Lady Gel-Dan. Show us the child.”
She nodded a full quarter of an inch, lower than she had ever lowered her head in her eight-seven years at court, although of course imperial gene therapy gave her the body of a perpetual twenty-five-year-old.
She stepped aside with a dignified flourish as the retinue parted, Panragine Knights micro-teleporting aside to reveal the hexicarriage canopy rising slowly to reveal the Lady Gel-Dan’s infant daughter, the Pre-Lady Gel-Dan do’Koli-zan. The baby burbled before farting loudly and then giggling to herself.
“By what signs,” whispered God-Emperor Xaxandar, “does the House On’donagar claim this child to be the Zizmatz Be’Lohardan?”
Lady Gel-Dan had set her cadre of law-wizards to the task of proving the child’s claim since before she was conceived. Those that survived the process agreed on the best tactic. “Cranial width, your Imperialness! I have, in my possession, callipers of the Ancient Craft, forged from the molten heart of the Matri-World, accurate to the molecule.” A gasp threaded through the gathered court of attendants over the course of several minutes as the sound from her amplifiers travelled across the preposterously vast throne room. “Mega-physicians!” she called.
Two identical cubes hovered forwards and unpuzzled themselves to form twin figures of rock and gold with wizened human heads perched atop cubic shoulders. They bowed to Lady Gel-Dan and each took one of the callipers’ handles. They set the device upon the infant Pre-Lady’s head and announced the foretold width in the Ancient Tongue using maths so advanced that, were one able to understand the language without sufficient training, one’s mind would be ruined by the knowledge. The God-Emperor, tutored in the Ancient Tongue from the age of five and in eldritch maths from the age of seven, and thus able to understand the width without the slightest damage to his magnificent and malevolent mind, allowed himself to inhale slightly louder than he would have otherwise. Such was his shock at the mega-physicians’ revelation.
Suddenly, moving slightly less slowly than Lady Gel-Dan’s retinue had done, a new retinue strode through the court’s hundred-foot doors. At its head, the Duke of U’u’ae stood, grey hair floating above his head on anti-gravity implants, embroidered purple robes set to “flutter.” His Panragine Knights numbered 200, their combat wings up, pointing to the distant, vaulted ceiling.
“The Lady Gel-Dan’s claim is flawed!” he screamed, his voice echoing throughout the imperial court thanks to a thousand robo-clones that had been secreted throughout the attendants and with whom the Duke maintained a technopathic bond.
God-Emperor Xaxandar’s left cheek almost drew back at the Duke’s most intensely insulting interruption of court business, but as Exchequer of the Imperial Mega-Vaults and Chief Gardener of the Hydromeda Fields, he could not be refused without endangering the ongoing wars of aggression into the Pentapedes’ extensive territories.
“My infra-nephew,” the Duke’s retinue slowly parted behind him to reveal a toddler, atop a pedestal, held in place by balanced gravity fields, sucking his own toes, “is the proper Zizmatz Be’Lohardan! He was born with the God-Emperor’s house seal upon his body!” The child was lifted from his pedestal by gravity beams that gently pulled one leg down to reveal the oblong, red-brown splotch on his left hip/buttock.
Lady Gel-Dan lightly clenching her jaw in frustration, but her maternity helm’s onboard sensors assured her it was within acceptable tolerances for an emotional display. Nevertheless, she spoke. “God-Emperor Xaxandar,” she began, “Duke U’u’ae’s claim is surely second to my own…” she paused for a touch too long to not be intentional, “sequentially, if nothing else.”
The God-Emperor smirked just enough for his throne wardens to detect it, then whispered, “The hyper-popes shall decide.” The court fell silent. The hyper-popes were only consulted in the most dire of circumstances. Their wrath was uncontrollable. Their scowls can freeze blood and fracture bone. Their on-board missiles guided by clairvoyance and malice.
Six rolled on gleaming metal treads down ramps of hardened plasma from far above the attendant crowds. Never before had this many been seen at once, especially given their tendency towards igniting the molten core of planets when more than one was within the same solar system. To see six was an unheard of honour reserved for the very soon to be dead. The hyper-popes’ hulking shoulders towering over their shining brain domes, moods only readable by the physical attitude of their rocket launchers.
The hyper-popes spoke as one in voices calculated to liquify the bowls of the lower-castes but merely irritate the digestion of the genetically perfected nobility. “The. Callipers. Speak. True.” Lady Gel-Dan had decided to permit herself the briefest whisper of smile, but the hyper-popes had one last word: “Almost.”
Her eyes widened, actually widened. Three millennia of planning, breeding, backstabbing, and strategic marriage alliances had lead her here, to total power over the known universe. Almost.
The hyper-popes reordered themselves around Duke U’u’ae’s charge, the hovering toddler, and announced, “The. Providence. Of. The. Mark. Is…” the Duke’s plan to upset House Kando’oril’s plans was about to work. He would not only thwart their attempts at rule but embarrass them before the God-Emperor and the assembled courts, thus destroying their influence among the Shattered Houses and securing revenge for the death of his third concubine’s second child, the one with the imperfect upper lip. Alas for the Duke, the hyper-popes finished: “Is… Unclear.” The Duke’s rage was manifest on the bio-sensors that were monitored by the mednicians on his home world but did not reach the muscles of his face.
The hyper-popes then rolled up their hardened plasma ramps back into the echoey shadows of the upper reaches of the throne room. The court attendants breathed a hundred thousand sighs of relief that there had been no active fire.
All eyes turned to the God-Emperor. He sat, motionless, for a full hour. Lady Gel-Dan and Duke U’u’ae stood equally motionless. Finally, the God-Emperor spoke: “The Zizmatz Be’Lohardan shall be taken into the care of the imperial court, trained in the ways of colonial warfare, physically and mentally educated to the peak of galactic ability, genetically enhanced and granted the vast powers of an heir apparent as well as the witching ways of the Kel-Do omniclerics. The Zizmatz Be’Lohardan shall be the finest human to live or ever have lived. This we proclaim!”
Lady Gel-Dan made the ultimate gambit and asked, “Yes, but which one?”
The God-Emperor looked back and forth: the infant and the toddler, the cranium and the mark. “Um, I guess the girl? Yes. Let’s say the girl.”