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Jensen barely squeezed out of the subway car. A big folded sign smacked him in the shoulder. He grunted, but the man holding it hurried away. The platform was packed with people trading places on and off the train. "Are you going to the Patheos rally?" The man stuck in people alongside him asked.
he replied quietly.
"Me too." The stranger added, but they were quickly separated before Jensen could follow.

He made it to the surface, only to find a cold rain had begun to fall. It gathered into puddles wherever the sidewalk dipped and soaked the lower hem of his pants. It didn't seem like a spring day, but he would never get used to Moscow's weather patterns.

It was a long wait in a line full of wet, cold people. He waited in line behind Jewish men, identified by the kippah pinned to their hair. A glance over his shoulder, only moments after he got in line, and a dozen others had already joined. Among them was a well-dressed young man in a black and white suit Jensen would bet was a mormon. A gentleman of color was dressed in the long tunic of a Hindu, his hair also wrapped modestly. In strange contrast, a couple stood behind him that at first glance seemed completely ordinary, but the longer Jensen looked, the woman's boho skirt and crystal necklace and the man's loose jacket and headband made Jensen wonder if they were pagan.

The line moved more swiftly than he thought it would, and soon he was at the front. He paid the small fee, registered his name and went through the pat-down and scanner without incident.

He shook the water from his coat and hair. The stadium was covered, thankfully.

It seemed the steps leading to the field were endless. A brief scan found no available seats.

A familiar voice came up beside him, "I see you made it."
Jensen recognized the man from the subway platform. He had neatly styled hair and was cleanly-shaven. His wool coat was as soaked as Jensen's.

"I was almost swept away in the flood out there, but yes, I made it."
He smiled slightly.

They both studied the field below. Stages were set up. Wide platforms were set up with a number of empty chairs. A wide sign illuminated the word Patheos behind it. Jensen wasn't exactly sure what to expect, but the time slot for the rally indicated the speakers were on a break.

"What brings you to the rally?" The gentleman inquired.

Jensen wasn't entirely sure how to answer that. Patheos was an online community of every major religion in the world. Their rally at a Moscow sports' stadium was to talk about the meaning of all the changes in the world of recent, and the impact it had upon the spiritual world.

He took a deep, thoughtful breath. "Guidance? Answers? Perspective? Maybe it's none of those things."
He shrugged.

"I know what you mean." He agreed. It seemed Jensen wasn't the only lost soul out there. The stadium was filled with thousands of them. He offered a handshake, "Sigvard Viggo," he introduced himself and the name matched his northern european accent.

"Jensen James,"
he replied and reluctantly shook hands.

Sigvard nodded. "It's a pleasure to meet you in person, Pastor."

Jensen sighed. He should have provided a fake name after all. "A pleasure to meet you too."

Edited by Jensen James, Jan 6 2018, 11:46 AM.
[Image: Alexandrova.jpg]

Alexandrova Vladislavovna

Office of the Consul on Public Engagement, Propaganda, and Interdominance Relations

Alexandrova didn't bother with any disguise. Her Consulate was not well known despite the fact that it had its fingers in every part of the empire. Leonid was the public face of their partnership, the voice used when Nik spoke through proxies.

In private, in their little cabal, it was she who usually took the lead. Strategy and framing had always been her specialty. Seeing the big picture, the shape of public sentiment, discovering the levers and imbalances they could use to influence that shape.

It had been she who had come up with the core strategy to reshape the DV over the next 20 years. Already, Leonid's media affairs department was hard at work, in association with their consultants, cranking out scripts and cultural elements that would be released over time.

Elouera Galloway was on assignment, interviewing youth groups in the region in an attempt to get an accurate picture of their concerns and aspirations, fears and hopes. It was a good place to be.

Still, Alexandrova could wish she were here with her at this stadium. If it hadn't been so last minute, she would have had Leonid recall her. The head of the Religious Dialog desk of Media Affairs would have been a nice person to have alongside her. She often brought a fresh perspective.

Here especially. Most of the crowd were older, though a smattering of youth could be seen in the mix. Various religious groups milled about, mostly keeping to themselves though there was constant communication back and forth. She saw Catholic and Orthodox priests in their vestments, Hasidic Jews and Imams, even what appeared to be indiginous groups. Those she didn't recognize, though many had the looks of Africa, Siberia, or even Australia on their faces. And here and there were what could only be termed doomsdayers, with their signs, preaching loudly. They had sprung up like weeds in the last few years.

By itself, none of that would have concerned her. Religions, organized or otherwise, were one of many levers they used. What concerned her most, instead, was the feeling of confusion and resentment in the air.

It was understandable. Too many questions had been raised with no answers. The revealing of channelers called into question many of the tenets of some religions.

It was all changing too quickly....too much, of great importance. She knew change took real time, at least one or two generations. That was the strategy for DV. But things had sped up and flowed out of anyone's control. Even Nik's.

Poor Nik, she thought. His display had been necessary, she knew. Mostly. But the proclamation had bothered some. Even the Pope had been forced to issue a statement. She felt a flash of irritation at Marcus. She was sure he had nudged him a bit, just before the creation. The boy was ambitious. He thought he concealed it- and from many he did- but she had noticed. He was a tool, a valuable one, to be sure. But he had to be reigned in. Shepherded. One day, perhaps, he would join Nik's inner sphere. But only when he realized their purpose. To keep Nik's empire whole and stable. To help carry the load. Personal aggrandizement was never to be considered.

There were considerations she had to make. The upcoming Ball. She would speak to Leonid. Later though.

For here, now, she saw potential chaos. Still, that was not necessarily a bad thing. It was fluid. It could be shaped, with care. But first, she needed to understand its flows and eddies.

Alexandrova found a seat and sat down to watch and listen. She needed to see how things lay.
It was quickly apparent that seating was going to be difficult to find. Jensen and Sigvard opted to find a warm cup of tea (or coffee in Jensen's case) to keep their hands warm while they walked the stadium. Finding two seats together was going to be next to impossible, Jensen eventually suggested, but being lost in a sea seemed more bearable with company. So they continued to search.

They were near the stadium grounds when Sigvard tugged on his jacket. "Would you mind waiting a moment?" Jensen shrugged and studied the stage set up, meanwhile. They were rather near the platform and he could make out nametags attached to the folding chairs that were arranged on stage. He didn't recognize most of the names, but one or two sounded familiar. He'd need to do an internet search to picture them, though.

Sigvard leaned over the shoulder of a pair of ladies near the front row of seats. He spoke quietly with them a few moments, then pulled out a wallet, tapped some commands and the women promptly vacated. Sigvard waved them over, and Jensen sat with a frown. "What happened?"
Sigvard smiled, tucking his wallet back into an interior jacket pocket.
"I was tired of walking around. Please, take a seat. The first speaker will be on soon."

Jensen watched the women climb back up the stairs. He didn't really approve of bribing two nice ladies for their chairs, but there was nothing he could do about it now. He sat and browed the website for a bio on the first speaker.

Forty-five minutes later, things were quite animated. Cheers and groans rippled through the stadium. Admittedly, the first speaker let things get out of hand early on, but they were already onto the second. Jensen suddenly wished that they had sat nearer an exit rather than practically all the way on the grounds.

"Ladies and gentlemen, as social, emotional, and intellectual beings, we humans always seek for meaning in the unknown. There is no doubt that what now touches humankind will affect each and every living soul. Our world is changed in ways we have never had to reconcile. Picture this, the borders of countries have shifted for thousands of years. Empires have risen and fallen. Languages disappear and technology emerges. Change is inevitable. What we are experiencing now is change once more. The emergence of these powered peoples, these channelers, has been a rapid and unforeseen thing. Yet mankind evolves. We have the challenge of watching evolution in the process."

Jensen had not thought of these channelers as a sort of evolution, before. Perhaps it made sense. The study of evolution meant that the human condition shifted in favor of existence, strength and passage to the next generation. But this was a religious rally. Many religions did not directly conflict with evolution. Some actually cited evolution as the hand of God or other higher being. Others outright dismissed it. Regardless, the response of the crowd was luke-warm when the speech was concluded. There were still questions. Jensen had more, himself. At his side, Sigvard paid close attention as well. He clapped politely between speakers, but the expression on his face made Jensen think that he was also waiting for answers.

"Can channelers be used by God? Let me ask this. Can doctors be used by God? Can engineers be used by God? Can the disabled be used by God? What about the LGBTQ community? What about the elderly? The infirm? We all know the answer. Yes, God uses people. That is what we are. We are all people. Channelers are people like any other. If they are blessed with additional gifts, we should embrace them."

Jensen leaned toward Sigvard, "I wish it was that easy, but not every channeler wants to use their gifts for God's kingdom."
Sigvard looked at him seriously, then nodded in agreement. Jensen shifted in the plastic seat. He wished to get up and walk around, but the third speaker was coming to the podium. Something told him to stay where he was.

"Our goal is to lead these bestowed with powers to use their gifts for the good of all. We look to Jesus, God in the flesh, as our inspiration. 'For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.'"

Jensen nodded. Service was the key. It was why he agreed to heal Ascendancy. Even if the man was evil, which Jensen didn't believe he was truly evil, he had to treat the man like any other who was on the brink of death. He had to serve all, equally. Servants of all. The speaker continued, conjuring a name that made Jensen's attention shift into sharp focus.

"Ascendancy is a channeler that has claimed to be a god by his deeds. We all saw the power he wielded. At the helm of an empire like the CCD, he has great potential to serve or harm. Let him be the example to all channelers. Use the power to build, heal and protect. He saved our city from nuclear explosion! He is more than a hero. He is a savior. God uses many. Maybe he really is one."

Jensen's mouth went dry. Everyone around them jumped to their feet.

Sigvard and he went to their feet as well. The speaker was looking around nervously before he was ushered quickly off stage. The crowd seemed to defuse a little, but Jensen shook his head. "He's a great man, but I don't think he's God."

Sigvard shouted back, but Jensen barely heard him over the noise in the stadium. "But he could be used by God. Isn't that almost the same thing?"

Jensen wasn't sure. "He's a leader, yet humble. He's confident, but not proud. He's had the burden of channeling for so long, yet shows restraint. We should learn from him, emulate him even. God did not allow him to die because he is needed right now. He brings us the answers, that is how our spirits find peace. What is the meaning to all this? It's that a new age is coming, one of glory and peace. The thousand year reign of Christ cannot come until we pass through the fire. That we should follow him if we want to live long enough to earn that peace. He may not be God, but he could be the next best thing."

Sigvard was blinking in awe. "That's what you should say!" He yelled, but Jensen shook his head like he didn't quite hear.
"What? To whom?

Next thing he knew, Sigvard had a hold of his arm and was leading him toward the gate to the field. Jensen pulled back, nervously looking ahead at the circle of armed officers keeping people from running the field.

"Pastor, I'm a Patheos television producer. I was one of the producers that put this entire rally together, and you need to tell these people what you just told me, before they break out into fighting."

Jensen blinked, but too much happened too quickly. Sigvard showed the security guards identity badges and pulled Jensen across the grass. No other speaker had come to replace the previous. In fact, the ten people all up on stage were also on their feet, talking animatedly among themselves. The microphones must have been muted, but the roar of the stadium burned his ears.

Next thing he knew, lights blinded him and the familiar wobble of temporary staging was underfoot.

What was more horrifying than the fact that Sigvard was on the side of the stage urging him toward the microphone, was that a hush fell across the crowd.

Oh no. He blinked and looked at his first audience in years.

[Image: Alexandrova.jpg]

Alexandrova Vladislavovna

Office of the Consul on Public Engagement, Propaganda, and Interdominance Relations

Alexandrova smiled. The establishment orthodoxy, already positioning itself to leverage the revelation of channelers. It was the standard and one that needed to be fanned by their department.

But these speakers were naive if they thought that the majority in the empire would be this easily quiesced. She had only been a teenage, but she well remembered the backlash that the issue of gender brought up. Which was understandable. However one wanted to define the concept of society created gender, sex, as a purely biological thing, was 3 billion years old. All sapient creatures were, by definition, classifiers, pattern recognizers. It was an evolutionary requirement to immediately classify everything an individual encountered as threat/non-threat; food/poison; useful/non-useful; potential mate/irrelevant; etc.

It had taken years, even decades, for the concept of gender to properly be separated from biological sex, with the concept of "race" soon to follow.

Indeed, the secret success of her and Leonid's consulates had been culled from a study of the methodologies in the evolution of societal acceptance: of various racial groups in the 60's through the 80s; of homosexuality from the late 80's to the early 2000's; of gender identity from the mid-2010's on into the 2020's.

None of which was organized other than through the grass roots and those entities with vested interests. There were no secret cabals directing matters, no hidden diabolical group trying to architect society. Societal evolution made possible through media channels that had only come into existence in the previous few decades. In each case, the change had come more and more rapidly. Yet there was always a lower limit.

It took time. One simply could not snap their fingers or have celebrities and those in the public ear preach acceptance. One could not shame a vast segment of society into belief. That swayed a few, true. And was part of it. But for all their silence, rage and resentment built up in that segment, exacerbated by demagogues who played on that rising resistance to change. Resentment that eventually burst on a national and world wide level.

For a full shift, every avenue had to be bent to their will. They were using the technique in the DV, after all. Their 20 year project.

Indeed, even she considered, she heard rumblings and shouts back at the speakers. She felt a rising tide of emotion and frustration. They had come to Pantheos- a term meaning "Many Gods"- in an effort to unite together and discuss what the appearance of channelers might mean.

There were always two sides. If some saw them as simple evolutionary changes in humanity, others saw them as the next threat- homo sapiens to homo neanderthalensis. If some saw them as potential agents of good and workers of God's will, others could see them as agents of evil and destruction. Theo (the irony of the name not lost on her) Andlain had been only one man, though a leader of a small group of channelers, and they had caused serious chaos in Moscow.

Nik had hidden his power, but he was the Ascedancy and a channeler, self-proclaimed as a god. How soon until other channelers decided to claim their own fiefdom either in the CCD or somewhere else?

And what about miracles of the past? Jesus? Moses? Elijah? Channelers performed comparable ones. Nik stood healed, though few knew it was because another channeler had healed him. To those who worshiped Jesus as God incarnate, what did it do to their beliefs to wonder if he merely had been a channeler? Because if he as a channeler was God-incarnate, wouldn't that apply to others? Fights had been wagered in Christendowm over far less.

And that didn't even touch on the religions of Islam or Bhuddism, not always known for their peaceful relations.

Indeed, already, there was some pushing back, as some of those holding signs "CHANNELING IS FROM SATAN!" "GOD HATES CHANNELERS!" "THERE IS ONLY ONE GOD AND MOHAMMAD IS HIS PROPHET!" "GOD IS ONE!" "IT IS BLASPHEMY TO TOUCH THE POWER OF GOD!!" trid to fight their way to the stage. Others pushed back trying to fight them, to prevent them. Others chanted "LET THEM SPEAK! LET THEM SPEAK!!!"

This was going to turn into a riot.

Alexandrova wasn't worried at the moment. She was in the nosebleeds. Anything violent would be near the platform. It would be good to see the natural flow.
A roar slowly rose up like a great slumbering beast and burst at his ear drums. Jensen squeezed his eyes shut, knowing there was only one real way to calm the storm that was brewing. For if it broke, violence would follow. Death rode swift wings, flung about when anger escalated and rationality fled.

He pulled the powers of the Gift into his grasp and began to wield the elements. Air and spirit sparked life to the lights. Earth charged the lights into majestic colors. They sprung skyward like a great fountain, ratcheted by the swing of his arms.

His brow focused as he pulled the flows tighter, coalescing the strands of neon lights into one glorious beam of energy. It reached the top of the stadium. Then, as he craned his neck, pierced the heavens itself. Maybe even disappeared into space.

The beam did its work. It distracted every single person into silence. Tens of thousands of still, shocked faces roared with the deafening absence of sound.

Jensen let the bar of light disappear with a measure of regret. It had no use other than majesty. It had been beautiful to behold. Like the light of God's throne itself.

He blinked and realized everyone waited to hear what he was going to say. The memory of a million faces tuned to his cracked his resolve. The hunger of ears begging for the nourishment he could provide tempted him to speak and sate the beast of desire roaming their lost souls.

When a gunshot burst, the sound echoed in the silent bowl of the stadium like a great hammer hitting its anvil. Nearby, someone collapsed on the stage. Jensen spun in terror. The fleeting moment of victory killed as surely as this man.

When he saw the victim, he rushed to Sigvard's aid. He barely saw someone from the stage leap to collapse the attacker. Around them, screams rose, people trampled to get away. The ant hill was kicked.

Jensen placed both his hands on the man's chest and the flows came swiftly. The panic in Sigvard's eyes faded as the healing took effect. Jensen squeezed his hand, nodding that he hang on. It was almost done.

When he looked up, he realized three speakers from the stage had their wallets open, watching. Jensen stared into the backs of those cameras like the lens truly devoured a piece of his soul.

They captured every moment of healing. Right up until Sigvard sat up, clutched at his chest, pulled apart his shirt and gaped at the smooth skin beneath. When he grappled Jensen in a tight hug, Jensen didn't resist.

This was the moment his secret disappeared. He spent the rest of the day tugged and begged for healing. First from the stage-goers. One elderly gentleman had prostate cancer. A young woman was infertile. Gout. Viruses. Astigmatism. It didn't matter. The tears in their eyes with each restoration gave him the motive to help the next.

Sigvard stayed near. Hours later, he had to literally strong-arm his way out of the stadium through a service entrance to escape the masses, dragging Jensen along.

Jensen didn't resist. There would be no more resisting.

[Image: Alexandrova.jpg]

Alexandrova Vladislavovna

Office of the Consul on Public Engagement, Propaganda, and Interdominance Relations

Alexandrova smiled slightly as she watched the wave of anger spread outward. Chaos, while an enemy, could also be a tool. People at extremes could be nudged, quite easily. But it took care. Great care. The law of unintended consequences meant that no matter how well they planned, things were never fully in their control. A campfire could turn into a raging inferno.

Mobs were the worst and the best in some ways. Easy to predict. Terrible to control. So despite their power, she preferred individuals or small groups. With them under control, they directed larger groups. Control of the masses, far less volatility.

Still, it was good to get the pulse. What happened at the Kremlin was seeing a repeat here. Crowds of people, from all idealogical extremes, surging like waves against the rocks, crashing, vying for control. The very air seemed to crackle with energy. She eyed the exits. Very likely, this would turn into a riot. She had the appropriate response teams on standby- well not she directly. But she'd made arrangements through one of the others of Nik's inner sphere.

She watched the monitors and a familiar face showed. Her green eyes glittered curiously. Well now. She considered with interest. The American healer, James, seemed torn. The anguish on his face was evident despite the jostling of the camera drones that hovered around like swarms of flies, the AI director switching the feeds as quickly as necessary.

And then she saw it on his face, a second before he errupted, the power bursting forth, a display of majesty and energy that left even her breathless. The streaming fountain of light seemed to reach into the heavens and a hush descended on the audience.

Well done! she said mentally. It wasn't an arch, but it was every bit as powerful. Memorable. In the long run, people's attitudes wouldn't change. Miracles only commanded temporary subservience. But at the least the threat of riot was quelled, a bucket of water to that small fire, drowning it out.

Almost. Unintended consequenses were never foreseeable. Into the silence, the sound of a gun shot exploded. The drones adjusted their focus, programmed as they were to note rigourously defined acts of violence. The monitors showed the tall man go down, the fountain of blood that sprayed from his chest.

The entire audience seemed to hold its breath, the calm before the storm. James' demonstration, it seemed, would only temporarily hold them back.

And then it happened. Was she surprised? Perhaps not. She knew the truth of Nik's recovery. The fact James was out and about was....troubling. DuBois had paroled him.

But what was more troubling, if she was honest, was the way the crowds flocked around him, begging for healing, and he gave it, freely. She had seen Nik's abilities, felt awe. But it was awe at the great, the large, the amazing.

This was....intimate. Every look of joy, every rapturous smile, every tear stained face of relief....they did what no majestic display could.

They were personal. Even the haters and agitators were stunned to silence by such individual demonstrations of power. For the time being, anyway.

And for the first time Alexandrova saw the power healers of old had. Especially those like Nik, if the Atharim were right. So very easy to worship as gods. To give devotion and worship- adoration- to.

Indeed, just the stories of Jesus had been enough to garner the love and devotion of millions of people for thousands of years. Even if untrue, those fables alone had power.

The voice of one of the nuns at her school came back to her. Jesus and the leper. The crowds flee from him and his loathsome and terrible desease. He approaches Jesus, on his knees, hands and face withered and disfigured, the image of pain and loneliness and suffering, begging a god to have mercy on him. "If you just want to, you can make me clean." So easy. Just a whim and he could be cured. And Jesus reaches out his hand to touch this man for whom touch has been denied for years, touches him gently. "I want to. Be made clean."

Power. Just the story alone held the ability to move the heart. A masterpiece of propaganda. The fact she remembered it after all these years- that it still held some power over her, of all people- was testimony to that.

And now it was here, in the flesh. And something occurred to Alexandrova. For all his accomplishments, Nik was still very aloof. He was god to these people. Alien. And it worked well enough. But if Nik could do more, if he could reach into their lives as James had....

The potential was amazing to consider.

She stood. The conference would go on. The potential for violence stemned for the moment. She had a new idea to consider. A new seed to plant and water. She couldn't help but smile at the possibilities.
Edited by Marcus DuBois, Mar 13 2018, 08:50 AM.

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