In Pan Post 41 Highemperor visits the planet Venus of the Sol System where he seeks out the elusive Zhuge - a powerful god and former ruler of a multiple universe-spanning empire. He seeks to force or cajole Zhuge to join his High Empire but, once found in his mindscape, Zhuge refuses and vanishes. Highemperor finds him yet again, this time on the planet Ledus, his minscape hidden within a bloint. Zhuge explains that he was like Highemperor once too, eager to destroy his enemies and believing he had the right to rule over all others because of his strength. But no one wanted to be ruled. They fought against him and he destroyed all life in his universes. He realised his error and retired from powerplaying and now seeks to be left alone. He does, however, powerplay to escape Highemperor. Highemperor is still determined to seek out Zhuge but retires to the Quantum Pantheon when urged by his subordinate, Kim. On the planet Orion, some time in the future, someone else finds Zhuge, this time it's the Archadmiral Lo.
Highemperor floats gently down from the sky of Venus. Around himself he casts a shield to protect his physical body from the sulphuric rain that pours from the permanent cloud cover that shrouds the rocky world beneath. He casts his eyes to the unusual flora of the world, looking like gigantic rock mushrooms. The sentient beings of the planet are docile rock-creatures, typical of the humanoid configuration - two arms, two legs a torso and a head. He sees some of them lumbering along a sulphuric river, while others are sheltering under the mushroom.
Somewhere above the clouds, now orbiting the planet, would be The Quantum Pantheon. Returning to his homesystem is something of a glorifying triumph, showing off in his super spaceship is quite a pleasure, knowing the spacefarers of Earth would be well aware of his presence.
He reaches the desert and proceeds to glide along the river. As he passes the mushroom the rock-people look up in shock at him, staring with their big, bright blue eyes that shine like torches through blue gems. He ignores them but is quietly satisfied that his mere presence can have such an effect on sentient beings like this.
Eventually he senses a distortion in reality and slows his movement. His boots settle upon the desert and he looks around with both his eyes and his his other faculties - there's no magic here, no temporal disturbances, no portals. He sees something on the ground. An old, worn-out converse[Ext 1] sneaker.
He stands over it and shakes his head.
Highemperor: "Too easy this time."
He holds out his hand and draws the shoe up. He doesn't touch it.
As with the times before he reaches out, now, with his mind. Psychic planes are not his go-to area of expertise, preferring the tangible and affective forces of the NeSiverse. He can use magic to affect reality. He can use time to affect reality. He can use space to affect reality. But the psychic has little to no affect upon the physical world, only upon the minds of individuals. Controlling others mind came naturally enough but he found his methodology was thanks to his powergaming and not his skill in the mental field. Since chasing his current quarry he has has to up his game.
He reaches out psychically and feels out towards the shoe. It's then that he senses everything at once - another world layered atop of this one. The shoe, in this case, acts at the physical anchor and allows Highemperor to leave the physical world and step into the psychic realm. When he opens his eyes - the world looks exactly as it had.
He's disappointed. He'd expected spectacle. Grandeur. Paradise. If you're going to create an imaginary world why make it look just as boring at the real world?
But this doesn't surprise him. He's been down this road before.
Now that he's in the psychic realm he pulls with his mind, attempting to draw in any other minds that exist in this world. When nothing happens he pulls harder. Then he feels his mind tugging at something, reeling it in like a fish. It lasts just a brief second - he must have caught his target off-guard. The sudden repulsion is extreme, almost knocking Highemperor out of the psyhic-realm. Out of his target's imagination. But he refuses to be rebuffed. He decides a more subtle approach is best. He tugs again, this time more gently - requesting an audience instead of demanding it.
He senses the world around him become mildly irritated with his presence.
Highemperor: "Get angry all you like. I'm not leaving. I will make you my *****!"
Highemperor: "And I've told you, I'm much more than a human. And I'm not a child. You will address me as Highemperor."
Zhuge: "I will not indulge you in grandiose titles. If you wish me to name you, then give me a name I am willing to use."
Highemperor: "You cannot de--"
The shoe drops to the floor and Highemperor staggers back. He had been ejected from the mind. He glares down at the dirty, old shoe and wonders if there's a way to force an army through it. Fitting thousands of soldiers through a little shoe seems a little unlikely.
He raises the shoe again.
Zhuge: "No need. I don't want you to sully my mental faculties again."
He turns and drops the shoe. He should have sensed that the god had entered the physical realm but he'd been focusing with his mind too much on the blasted sneaker.
Zhuge is a short anthropomorphic bird-creature. He has white feathers for his head, while the feathers of the rest of his body are tan coloured. His beak is yellow and his eyes steel. Though his arms have feathers, they aren't wings and they end with hands just like any mammal. He wears a simple, though very clean, brown robe over his body. It is sans sleeves and he wears no shoes, preferring naked talons. Hanging around his neck is a beaded necklace with huge, wooden orbs.
Zhuge: "I have said no to you three times now. My answer will forever remain the same."
Highemperor: "Then I'll force you!"
He grits his teeth as a sign of aggression but he does nothing more. He admits inwardly that he isn't certain of success. The creature, Zhuge, appears weak and flaccid. Old, worn and tired. Meek, quiet, introverted.
Yet Highemperor knows his former identity. God of universes, an empire that could easily rival the High Empire itself. But now he seeks solitude in the NeSiverse.
Zhuge: "Force was my mistake too, human child."
Highemperor: "I'm not a h-- urgh. I don't use force unless I have to. My people are happy. They love me."
Zhuge: "Until they don't."
Highemperor: "They always will."
Zhuge: "If you say so."
Highemperor: "I do say so!"
Zhuge turns his back on Highemperor and walks slowly across the rocks. Highemperor almost attacks the old buzzard for the affront of the action but keeps himself in check.
Zhuge: "Are you telling me that there isn't a single modicum of rebellion in your wondrous empire?"
Zhuge: "And what if it spread?"
Highemperor: "It wouldn't."
Zhuge: "But what if it did? What would you do?"
Highemperor: "Destroy it."
Zhuge: "And if others continue to rise up against you?"
Highemperor: "I would destroy them all. Once they're destroyed, it can't spread."
Zhuge: "Then you are as foolish as me."
Highemperor rolls his eyes.
Highemperor: "Is that it? Is that your big secret? Your people rebelled against you and you had to kill them? So now you're all miserable and sad? Pathetic."
Zhuge chuckles. It sounds more like hooting.
Zhuge: "It turns out just because you have the power to rule, it doesn't mean people want you to rule them. They came at me. First rival gods. They banded against me. All of the powerplayers of the universes--"
Highemperor: "And you defeated all of them?"
Zhuge: "I did. I defeated them all as they came. I took the offensive. I destroyed their worlds. I destroyed their galaxies. All with a thought. And then... I realised I was alone... Nobody wanted to be ruled, so I destroyed them all."
Highemperor: "Sounds like victory to me."
Zhuge: "Victory? Are you sure about that? What did I want? To win? No. I wanted to rule. After every living thing was destroyed... there was nothing left to rule. I was alone. How is this victory?"
Highemperor muses. He couldn't deny the story but his lust overcomes common sense. He likes to toy with the idea that he could become the melodramatic old sage with such a tale of wisdom to tell, but his desire for power and control is too great to overcome. No matter the truth of the words of Zhuge, Highemperor would never succumb to them.
Zhuge: "Do you know what the mark of an ultimate warrior is?"
Highemperor: "The ability to conquer all of his enemies."
Zhuge: "You are the ultimate warrior when you don't need to conquer your enemies..."
Highemperor: "Your sagely wisdom will be most useful when you serve me, Zhuge."
The bird-man shakes his head.
Zhuge: "I will not help you destroy yourself, human child. I have warned you now and I shall continue to do so every time you seek me out."
Highemperor: "That's where you're wrong. You will serve me and--"
Highemperor lifts his arms. He had been about to cast a field of powerful containment around the alien god but Zhuge is gone. Highemperor had barely blinked. He looks down. Where the shoe had been there is now nothing but a rock.
Highemperor: "I know he's on this world. I've finally got him this time."
A squadron of the High Empire's fleet has blockaded a small world named Ledus, located within the Perseus Arm. According to readings there's a small group of humans hiding out in a big building there. Aside from that, nothing. However a trip planetside revealed yet another out-of-place object - a pink bloint, sitting in the middle of a frozen desert. No doubt Zhuge knows he's here but there'll soon be nothing he can do to escape.
Powerplayers working for Highemperor have combined a powerful shield that will keep everything contained - not even light or time is able to pass through, placing the planet in a kind of stasis. Highemperor passes through it, however, because he's awesome like that. He feels like he's floating through butter as he finds the bloint. He reaches out with his mind.
Zhuge: "Yet again, you disturb my solitude. You know, I do find these visits pretty annoying..."
Highemperor: "Then prepared to get really pissed off because you're totally trapped on this planet! If you do not bind yourself to me, I shall leave you forever trapped here!"
Zhuge nods enthusiastically.
Zhuge: "That sounds perfect. Thank you!"
Highemperor: "Uh... ... ... bollocks!"
Zhuge: "You cannot threaten anything dear to my heart for I have already done that myself... I know that's how you have cajoled many a slave."
Highemperor: "I have no slaves! I just... force them to... serve me..."
He purses his lips.
Highemperor: "I pay them!"
Zhuge: "You pay that quantum god you pressed into service? What need has it of money?"
Highemperor: "I-- shut up! If I can't trap you, I can't threaten you then I shall destroy you and steal your power!"
Zhuge waves his hand towards a small, white garden table sitting in the middle of the psychic ice desert of Ledus. There, on the table, is a tea tray.
Zhuge: "I do find tea quite a wonderful invention in this universe. A man, a god of sorts I think, from Earth showed it to me. Now he was a wise ruler. His people don't even know he is their ruler! Ingenious."
Zhuge picks up a mug of tea. It isn't one of the dainty teacups that Emperor Pi might have used, but a good, old builders mug. Complete with 'World's Best Dad' slogan printed on it.
Highemperor: "Power. Steal. You understand?"
Zhuge: "Ah yes. I'm sorry but you'll be very disappointed."
Highemperor: "How so?"
Zhuge: "I am powerless."
Highemperor: "I've felt your power! You rules universes! Destroyed all powerplayers! I know you have power!"
Zhuge: "I have power when I decide I have power. When I decide I have no power... I have no power."
Highemperor: "You can't turn it off and on like a light switch."
Zhuge: "I can."
Highemperor, exasperated, plants his hands on his hips.
Highemperor: "And I thought conquering that little quantum guy was annoying! You are something else! So I cannot trap you. I cannot force you. I cannot steal from you. I cannot convince you. I cannot bribe you. And so I am left with only one option--"
Zhuge: "To destroy."
Highemperor: "To de-- uh. Yes. You leave me no other choice."
Zhuge: "But to walk away..."
Highemperor: "If I walk away I'll look like a pussy! Besides, I'm Highemperor! I always have to win!"
Zhuge's beak curls into a smile as he sips from his mug.
Zhuge: "I take it back. I think I'm starting to enjoy this little game, human child."
Highemperor: "Enjoy it while it lasts because I'm going to wipe you out. Nothing personal, okay?"
Zhuge: "And what if I leave?"
Highemperor: "I told you. You're trapped."
Zhuge: "Hmmm. Tell me something before you, uh, 'wipe me out', would you?"
Highemperor folds his arms. He's confident but he suddenly feels a surge of suspicion. In lieu of words, Zhuge assumes it to be a cue for him to continue.
Zhuge: "In this universe, your power works because you say something and it is, correct?"
Highemperor: "I can do anything."
Zhuge nods and motions in confirmation with his mug of tea.
Zhuge: "Yes. You can do anything because you say you can do anything, right?"
Highemperor: "So if I say you're trapped, then you're trapped."
Zhuge: "And if I say I'm not?"
Highemperor: "Then n--"
Highemperor: "--othin-- How in the name of buggery..."
He looks down at where the bloint had been. Now it's another rock. This time a white one. He punts it in anger.
Highemperor: "I won't let you go this time..."
With all his power, all his force, he stretches out his will and commands the NeSiverse to return Zhuge to his side.
Highemperor: "You will return!"
Zhuge: "I will not."
He opens his eyes. He heard the bird for an instant but he's gone again.
Highemperor: "You WILL!"
There's a flash and, for an instant, Zhuge is there.
Zhuge: "Will not."
Two weeks later and Highemperor feels the traps that his army put on the world diminishes. It distracts him, suddenly, from his battle of powerplaying will with Zhuge and, finally, Zhuge is gone.
A powerplayer zooms to the desert and crashes into the snow, spraying the white powder all over Highemperor. Highemperor is too annoying to put the effort into shielding himself from it and stands there covered in white, glowering at his servant.
The man climbs out of his snowpile and gives Highemperor a slapdash salute.
Kim: "Heya boss! Sorry about that, dude! We, uh, thought you might be dead. They told me I should come down and see. I think they're afraid you'd kill anyone coming down but I ain't afraid! I know you're not so evil. Am I right, Sire?"
Highemperor continues to stare at him.
Kim: "Uh... boss?"
Highemperor then sighs with exhaustion. He'd been forcing the universe to his will every second for the past two weeks and now he feels like he just wants to lie down and sleep for eternity. Stupid Zhuge.
Highemperor: "Of course I wouldn't kill you, Kim. You are an idiot though. That's why they sent you down here."
Kim: "Oh right. Yeah I suppose. But I don't think I'm an idiot. I just know you're the greatest boss in the universe!"
Highemperor: "I am, aren't I?"
Kim: "Damn straight! But I should tell you, I sort of crashed one of your spaceships a few days ago be--"
Highemperor: "When I said I wouldn't kill you, I meant I wouldn't kill you unless you crashed one of my spaceships..."
Kim: "Send word to the harem I have on the Quantum Pantheon that they should be ready for me. I want the most incredible massage the universe has ever known. I bloody need it..."
Kim salutes, almost poking his eye out, and flies off into space. Highemperor stares at the rock that had once been a bloint.
Highemperor: "I will find you again, Zhuge..."
A year later, on the planet Orion;
The sky is as green as the skin of the world's people. Its buildings tall, rounded obelisks of grey with spiralling ascension paths around them, which elevate people and objects up them, winding around the building to their desired floor. There's no flora on this planet, never has been. Only fauna ever evolved here and its dominant sentient species is widely known as Orions. The world is infamous throughout the galaxy for its slave trade and it is ruled by the slavemasters.
In one of its quieter villages - a village on Orion being the equivalent of a major city on Earth - a woman saunters through one of the many alleys. She shoos some crooks, kicking their skulls to the floor for the sport of it. She tugs at her nose with her thumb in triumph and gives one of them a swift boot in the gut for good measure. Fun times!
From her long coat she pulls out a compass. Only this isn't pointing north. It points to her heart's desire. A new and almighty artefact!
She follows it further down the alley then stops. The compass points backwards. She steps a few paces back and watches the needle swing front again. For a moment she wonders if the object is below ground or somewhere high in the sky but she notices there's an object that just doesn't seem quite right here on Orion. A signed photograph of Judge, a hero of planet Earth. Archadmiral Lo has had a run in with Hero Force One once before when she tried to steal their A.I. technology. After a few minutes with the infernal thing she returned it to them and they parted best friends after a few pints of John Smiths[Ext 3].
Orions know next to nothing of Earth, making a photograph of the woman an oddity. Lo kneels down and scoops up the photograph.
Zhuge: "It seems so few of you actually bother to pick anything up with your hands these days. So consider me impressed."
Startled, she trips on her own coat and winds up slamming her butt on the floor. She winces.
Lo: "Did you really have to jump out and scare the crap outta me, bird-brain?"
Zhuge: "Bird-brain. How original."