A "theme outline" for a proposed novel set in the same universe
as EYE OF TERROR, after the events in that book.
A project of far-reaching implications is afoot, under a secrecy so total that those involved in it - drawn chiefly from the Adeptus Mechanicus, but also from mysterious unknown cabals deep in the covert hierarchy of the Administratum - do not know under whose aegis it is being prosecuted, or who has set it in motion.
The High Lords fear for the future of the Imperium. The Emperor has not spoken for a long time. It is an article of faith that he watches over the wide-flung human realm, guarding it from the powers of chaos, but it cannot be denied that his physical form continues slowly to deteriorate over the centuries, despite all efforts on the part of the complex organisation charged with maintaining the throne-globe. What if he weakens to the point where he can no longer manifest as a god in the materium, and can no longer direct the Astronomican? Without the Emperor, there can be no Imperium.
There is also a need to guard against a second threat. More ships than usual are coming to grief in the warp. Some technomages predict a return of the violent warp storms which for centuries prevented interstellar travel and cut Earth off from the rest of the galaxy.
A plan has been devised: not to restore the Emperor to health - that is impossible - but to open the possibility of reincarnation. In the vast warren of laboratories surrounding the throne-room are minute scraps of tissue containing the Emperor's genes, frozen in stasis at the time the throne-globe was constructed. From these scraps, five clone bodies are grown to adult form. Then they are exposed to the Emperor's mighty spirit, in a ceremony similar to the soul-binding administered to astropaths. The intention is that the Emperor will imbue each with his own individuality. They will not be as powerful as the original, of course, but they might grow more powerful with time. Neither is it believed that the operation will compromise the Emperor's unity in any way. He is a god, and these are his avatars.
Should the Imperium become ungovernable, either by reason of the Emperor's morbidity, or because of warp storms sweeping the galaxy, then each of the five segmentae will be ruled by one of the avatars or 'brothers' as 'Segmentum Emperor'. (This device was used in the later Roman Empire to ease administration.)
Has incarnation really taken place? It is easily settled. The adult clone bodies are in a state of sleep, and have received no upbringing or education. But after the ceremony of binding they arise, walk and talk.
The avatars are to be informed of who they really are and then sent on their way. No formal appointments are made. The reasoning is that because of their unique qualities they will find their own way to rulership should the crisis arise.
But only four are sent out. The mysterious project director tells his underlings that one of the clones is deficient and is to be destroyed. However, those entrusted with the task find they cannot kill a reborn Emperor. Secretly they send him out of the palace alone, unwitting of who he really is.
This scheme has an obvious resemblance to the creation of the Primarchs 10,000 years earlier, and it contains the same danger: that the chaos powers manage to intervene, subtly influencing the brothers as they grow in their foetal tubes. If that is true, the stage is set for a four-way, or even five-way civil war at some time in the future. (The brothers are, of course, immortal.)
Already the reader might guess that there is something 'not quite right'. The Avatar Project is so secret that even the High Lords do not know of it. It is conducted within the Imperial Palace itself, in the wheels-within-wheels manner of the Imperium. And once it is completed the logic of total secrecy is carried to its conclusion. All trace of the project is wiped away, all those involved in it liquidated. Those who order the killings, whoever they are, are unaware that the avatar they ordered destroyed was, in fact, saved.
Centuries pass. We come up to the present, when the hapless duo Rugolo and Calliden from THE EYE OF TERROR are injected kicking and screaming back into the Eye to act as spies. Among the characters they encounter in the Eye are:-
1) Ex-Commander-Militant Drang, who at the end of the previous novel had been dragged bodily into the warp. While there he suffered the most terrible torments as warp daemons played with him. Now he has been dumped somewhere in the Eye, enduring double possession, for daemons of both Nurgle and Tzeentch are using his body as a battleground. Driven quite insane, still seized by an obsessive admiration for Space Marines (now for Chaos Legionnaires) he plays out his talent for command at the head of a ghost or zombie army.
1) Eugene Excelsior, a devil-may-care adventurer with a casual but very positive outlook on life. He has no idea why he has lived longer than other people or why fortune smiles on him as he does. He gads about the galaxy in a spaceship, but without using a navigator, content simply to drop out of the warp at random! That is how he comes to be in the Eye, where he appears just in time to save the duo's bacon in some awful scrape they have got themselves into. He is, of course, the rejected avatar. But he knows little of his origins, being content to enjoy life and adventure. He is unflustered by the horrors of the Eye and seems to revel in its strangeness. He waves aside the pessimism of Rugolo and Calliden, as well as the grimness of the Imperium and the hell-universe around them. This is an Age of Adventure, he tells them, the best age there has been. One should laugh at fate, not fear it!
The story develops. There is a flurry of warp storms. Meanwhile the four avatars, conscious of their destiny, have been moving into position. Two of them are already Segmentum Commanders when the Segmentae are cut off from one another. Each has a different facet to his personality, including serious flaws. When the crisis is over and communication restored, each announces his divinity and claims that he is, in truth, the Emperor reborn, while the others are impostors.
Such is their immense charisma that they pull it off. Fighting begins in a four-way war which will tear the Imperium apart.
At the same time, Eugene Excelsior remembers who he is. He tells his companions that he is the true Emperor. The other clones were tainted by the chaos powers in an attempt to sabotage the project and pervert the reincarnated soul of the Emperor. That is why it was found necessary to destroy him.
Rugolo and Calliden are caught up in a prolonged drama. The avatars have an attraction for one another. They are unable to resist the urge to stage a climax in which they meet personally. Eugene Excelsior is the sole survivor of this confrontation. He kills all the others.
Then comes another mismatched piece of the puzzle. There never had been an Avatar Project. True, five near-identical individuals had been grown in the Emperor's palace. But they could not have been clones of the Emperor. No such genetic material was available. A risky situation of that kind was inconceivable.
It begins to look as if Excelsior himself is a child of chaos, designed to replace the Emperor one day, and the whole drama of the five brothers a diversionary tactic, part of an elaborate plot.
Fearing that this is so, Rugolo himself tries to kill his friend Eugene. Excelsior blithely shrugs off the attempt and wanders off, to continue his life of adventure as before.
And, perhaps, to wait.
copyright 2001, Barrington J. Bayley
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