Natural Selection
by Paul Cocker


Black smoke danced out of distant barreled chimneys to a demented tune, the mind of its master.  The scent of cremation was familiar to Autocrat, and the comfort of his abode well worn.  He smiled with pleasure as he took up a golden chalise from a lanky, malnurished human servant and gulped its contents down his throat in a single, sweeping gesture.

The armored overlord smiled again, licking the nectar from his overshadowed lips, and hurled the chalice out into the expanse of slaves.  He leaned back into his twisted chair, formed from the very bones of his victims, precisely crafted and polished to an ornate sheen.  Autocrat listened to the splendid orchestra of screams and guttural rants of those in the nearby rape and interment camps.  Newborns cried for their mothers, widows wimpered for their husbands, and God wept for them all!

The mighty aristocrat basked in it all -- for human pain was his pleasure, human suffering his boon.

Various members of the Royal Elite were in attendance as well, enjoying the festivities, the harems, and plentiful food and drink that had been brought in from raided cities across the globe.  Such raids were their ordained right, and all within the great hall were enraptured to be part of the privileged and deserving membership of Autocrat's court.

Autocrat smiled again, a face concealed within the umbra of his helmet, and stood to leave the orgy and enter the depths of his palace.

******

Mastodon lay back on a canopied bed.  He had a woman on either shoulder, one snoring contently, the other playing with his wild mane of hair.  Both women were hybrids, genetically reconstructed and surgically altered to look like the young metahuman named Knock-out.

"What can I do for you, my master?" purred the one who was still awake.

"You have done enough for me today, both of you," the powerfully built highborn said.  He studied the concubine, admired her perfect curves and beautiful facial features.  Then he reached toward her.

She flinched.  It was a slight reaction, but Mastodon noticed it.  She smiled quickly and almost managed to cover it.

"You fear me, don't you?" he asked.

"Yes, master."

"Good."

"Why?..."  She hesitated, and then shrugged.

"Because I don't trust you!" Mastodon snapped.  "Because I'm part of the Royal Elite, and you're not, and therefore I'm placed in a position where I can't trust you.  And for good reason."

Mastodon sighed, and then rose from his bed and stepped out into the main hall.  His appearance was met with a chorus of greetings from those members of the nobility who happened to spot him.  He waved his caber-like arm, nodded his head, then proceeded down the hall, scratching his head thoughtfully.

******

The riotous orgy echoed throughout the palace.

The Baroness tip-toed along side her Oriental colleague, Brainchild, placing an affectionate arm around the young boy.  Her diaphanous shawl danced about with each graceful step, like a thing alive, accentuating the sinuous shape of her slender frame.

Two lesser nobles walked past in either direction, offering greetings to both the Baroness and Brainchild.  They acknowledged them in turn and smiled.

"I'm still a little unclear about Autocrat's plan," the adolescent Brainchild said, half-walking, half-floating down a corridor.  "I've pin-pointed the highborn in England, but what for?"

"It is part of the Conquest," she began.  "We must gather all highborns, all metahumans that are part of the aristocracy, and band together."  She beamed.  "It's our natural right to reign supreme.  Some suspect it will be an epic battle, but much of this will shortly be moot.  I doubt very much that Autocrat forgot to take all contingencies into account."

Brainchild laughed devilishly.  "The joy of torturing minds -- crushing our opposition.  I can't wait!"

"After years of deprivation and betrayal, we're entitled to step above and beyond the humdrum of humanity."  Baroness started to flicker as she laughed, her existence shunting in and out of reality.

Brainchild laughed too.

******

The coven was in a derelict church, an inner sanctum adjacent to the palace.  Grimy stained-glass windows loomed high, admitting oblong rays of moonlight within.  A stank, rotting corpse drooped across a basalt altar.  Holy symbols were defaced and positioned sacreligiously about the unholy setting.

Serena Sousa studied her brothers and sisters, a score of pale shadows floating restlessly about the nave, where their coffins lay.  Something had awaken them from their needed slumber.

"Vamp, it has been decades," Autocrat said, nevertheless keeping a watchful eye on this motley being.  She was a lithe, lovely raven-haired beauty who had no doubt been irrestible to men even before becoming a vampire.  Autocrat came to a halt several feet from the mistress of the coven, no fear or caution about his bearing.  "I hope I haven't riled you from your somnolence?  I know how you cherish such rest."

Despite his infernal appearance, he smelled of human flesh and blood, which would have normally made him a source to quench her insatiable thirst.  Of course, she'd come to admire him for his power and his cruelties.  Serena looked at Autocrat as one looks at a peer, not a subordinate.

Even the vampire's eyes widened at his sentiments, a rare occurrence for a creature so practiced in the arts of deception.  "The moon is out, Autocrat," she said, exposing her arching fangs, which kept trying to lengthen of their own accord.

"I had the church prepared accordingly."

Serena eyed the overlord suspiciously for a moment, and was forced to wave her hand, warding off her ghastly, sibilant minions.  She smiled.  "Now, what do I  honor this summons?  Surely you did not have me and my coven come visit you just for idle conversation.  I have never known you to be one for pleasantries."  She paused, studying the powerful ruler for a moment, probing for some hint that she could exploit.

Autocrat seemed a wall of calm fortitude.

The overlord inclined his head toward the vampire, obviously agreeing with her words.  "I have summoned you to help commence the Conquest, Vamp.  I require your influence over the underworld, something that I have no affect on.  After some observation of my own, I believe that your dark lifestyle will be a much needed asset to the Royal Elite's cause."

"And I am to assume that this Conquest will benefit me?"

"Naturally.  Centuries ago, as you well know, the defining battles of the humans were the Crusades.  But we are far more than human, are we not?  We deserve to be remembered, to be revered as the highborn that we are.  The Conquest will separate us from the humans, make us epic, placing us on that immortal pantheon of audacious nobles."

Serena sighed.  "Spare me the melodrama.  My vampirism already grants me sovereign over my prey.  How will this benefit me?"

Autocrat's posture remained stolid, relaxed, and any expression was overcast by the shadows within his helmet.  "Freedom to do as you please, when the humans have been assimilated, and your oppression of being reduced to stalking your prey a history."

The vampire stroked her angular chin for a few moments as she considered the overlord's words.  It wasn't in her usual nature to accept a bargain with such Byzantine terms.  In the past, Vamp had been more likely to desire a soul or token of immediate power than an open-ended promise. Yet, save for centuries before, she had not chanced to deal with Autocrat, and then she had been well repaid. That lone fact happened to severely impact any perceptions she had of the deal.

"Were you nearly anyone else, Autocrat, I would laugh in your face.  However, you are who you are, and I have never been a fool."

"We shall be reforged in the image of our absolute mastery," Autocrat replied without
hesitation.  "You have burnt away the wasteful pride and luxury your victims once possessed, and now all they have is hunger, rage, and pain.  You shall fan those flames to aid the Conquest, and when the we emerge from our battle, we shall be the ultimate ruling class."

A small smile flickered on Serena's lips.  "And now, Autocrat.  My coven and I must roam the night and feed."

"But of course.  Perhaps your coven would enjoy my human cattle -- they await the royal slaughterhouse."

With a simple nod and flick of her wrist, the vampiric mistress was gone from the unholy church, her ghastly wards too disappeared with her.

Autocrat studied the space the two had occupied but moments before and stroked his chin, considering the future.
 

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