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June 1, 2027

Infinity giggled at Sunset, watching as the girl’s aura through lights around the room. The teen’s long white hair whipped about, reflecting the bursts of light from her Quantum-bleed through. The young nova was a shaper and artist of light and her quantum expressed itself with a disco-ball effect, constantly creating a light show. Sunset’s white hair was the perfect counterpoint, and the girl dressed in neutral colors so she didn’t clash with herself.

The Terat was another of the second gens, and probably the closest thing that Infinity had to a girlfriend – that is, a girl who was also a friend. Though they got along well, Sunset was strictly hetero, as well as defiantly, almost militaristically, monogamous. She’d held that stance through three boyfriends, dumping each one when he suggested a more open relationship. It hadn’t made her popular in the Nursery, but Infinity had always admired the girl’s stance. Sunset knew what she wanted and went for it, pursuing her own dreams and goals without letting others limit her. In that way, she was a perfect Terat.

Of course, that Sunset was also a member of the Cult of Mal was icing on the cake. It was novas like her that would bring the Cult back into favor with the other Terat, Infinity reflected, even as Sunset danced on top of the meeting table and sang an off-tune version of Mimo’s Gotcha-Getcha-Gotcha Luv. Of course, Sunset had been on set for the Bollywood movie of the same name, so she knew all the words even though it had just debuted in Bombay.

“I see we’re starting the party early,” Lynks said as he sauntered into the meeting room.

“Better than the meeting early,” Infinity said with a grin, peering at him around the feet she’d thrown up on the table. “What have you been up to?”

“Oh, just pulling down any anti-Mal sites I’ve found on the opnet,” he said with his Cheshire grin.

Infinity chuckled. “Sounds like fun. I hope you saved copies of the best for us to cackle over,” she said, her red eyes warm with mirth. “Like that one last month. With the drawing of Mal that looked like a two year old had done it with crayons.”

Sunset stepped off the table to a chorus of groans of disappointment. Pulling a chair over to Infinity’s, she said, “I still like the one where that physicist used mathematic equations to prove that Mal is the AntiChrist.” She dropped into the chair and put her head on Infinity’s shoulder. She picked up the red-eyed nova’s hand and held it against her own, watching Infinity’s black light aura change Sunset’s colors. “I like playing with your light,” she whispered to Infinity.

“There’d be more to play with if we were all naked,” Infinity whispered back.

Sunset giggled cutely. “You are incorrigible.”

Accepting the refusal with good grace was easy; after all, she knew Sunset wasn’t interested. She also wasn’t offended by Infinity hitting on her – they had only fought over sex once, when Sunset had a crush on Puck. That disagreement had been settled by Puck explaining that he was a whore, and that he wouldn’t settle down with anyone. Infinity had sat with Sunset through the tears and ice cream after Puck had left. The next day, they’d been friends again.

Before Infinity could reply to Sunset, the doors opened again. Infinity waved to Dorchester – Winner of the worst nova name ever… – and again to Clarion, who was right behind him. There was something in Clarion’s hands and Infinity felt a sense of foreboding. She glanced at Scripture, but he seemed unperturbed.

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“Is everyone here?” Clarion asked as he set his hidden object down on the table.

“Everyone who’s coming,” Sunset purred, her voice vibrating against Infinity and making the girl wish once again that Sunset was into girls and sharing.

“Good, let’s get started,” Clarion said, clapping his hands together. “As many of you know, we’ve had issues with lately, particularly with other members of the Teragen. They don’t take us seriously anymore, and this is a major issue. I’m sure you all worry about it, too.”

“Not worry,” Dorchester said with a shrug that was echoed by several others in the room. “Maybe we don’t like it, but Teras is about choice, right?”

“Right! But we’re the right choice, and we have to get people to realize that,” Clarion said enthusiastically. “I mean, following Mal is a no-brainer, right?” Taking a single breath, the man launched into a long-winded description of why everyone should worship Mal. Oh, he kept using other words, like venerate or follow, but he meant worship.

Jesus Christ, this tuna-dick has a one-track mind. Across the room, Tylan glanced at her, startled as he stifled a giggle. The Asian telepath had a bad habit of skimming all the minds in the room without permission, but the very gay little nova had no poker face and a tendency to get others in trouble with him. Clarion caught the giggle and the glance, throwing a suspicious glare at Infinity. She kept her expression bland as she pretended to listen to Clarion. Tylan, if you’re still listening, you’re a cheese-dick.

Infinity kept her eyes on Clarion, even as the nova replied, *Hard cheese, sweet heart, too hard for you!*

Ugh, she sighed. Even a gay man has to be, oops, I mean have, a bigger dick than any other man in the room. When will you guys realize that it’s not the size of the boat but the motion of the ocean?

*When people stop picking sexual partners based on cock-size!* He had a certain point, and Infinity let the conversation go. If you responded, he’d keep going, and she was done. Instead, she tuned into Clarion’s speech, right as she heard him say, “- have to show the world the splendor of Mal, of his divine right-

Oh god, he’s in fire and brimstone mode, Infinity sighed, rotating her neck subtly. Next to her, Sunset sagged against her and started to snore. Her eyes glazing over, Infinity started to compile a list of places she still wanted to have sex in before she died. Eiffel Tower… Taj Mahal… That little B&B in the Swiss Alps…

“-The Church of Mal!”

The Church of Mal… Wait, what?

“It’s easy to be incorporated as a religion in England,” Clarion was saying, his manner exceptionally excited. “We become the Church of Mal, and then we build it.” He whipped the cloth dramatically off his hidden object, revealing that it had been a scale model of a cathedral. It was tall and arching and extragant.

Oh, fuck, he’s lost his mind. This is SO not what we need! Every member of the cult turned to look at Scripture, to see his reaction, save for Scripture himself. He was looking right at Infinity and slowly, everyone’s gaze moved to her. She found herself the center of attention of her entire faction in the space of seconds. Even Clarion had caught the mood and was looking to her, though he wasn’t happy.

Oh fuck. Ohfuckohfuckohfuck! He… Scripture… He wants me to stop Clarion?! How?!

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I can’t do this! Infinity’s eyes begged Scripture to say something, anything, but the bastard only gave her a direct glance and said, “Tell us more, Clarion.”

Clearly, the Terat hadn’t expected this kind of reaction from Scripture, and he fluffed himself up, as full of hot air as Infinity had ever seen him. “Yes! Thank you, Scripture!” he said quickly. “I’ve arranged for the purchase of several parcels of land in London. Once we demolish the houses there, we can start construction on the cathedral. It’s going to have grand arches, so that Mal can hover over the masses who have come to adore h-”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake!” The words were out of Infinity’s mouth before she’d realized that she’d said them. All eyes swiveled back to her, making her the focus of the room. She nearly faltered, but her mouth was engaged and kept going even as her brain tried to back down. “Mal is never going to hover over the masses for adoration, Clarion! Mal doesn’t want to be worshipped! He doesn’t need you or anyone else to worship him! Only people who need the crutch of religion think that Mal wants to be worshiped. He’s not some Greek god, damn it!”

She was pissed, but so was Clarion, and he was a lot tougher than her. Infinity had always had the problem of running off her mouth at people who could crush her, but you could only kowtow so long before it exploded out of you. The trick was containing it until there were enough people around who would protect you if the other person got violent.

“How dare you defame the Great Mal?” Clarion snarled. The power of his charisma pounded against her and Infinity wanted to give into what he was saying. She wanted someone else in the Cult to speak up – why weren’t they? Why were they silent?

“Only an idiot thinks that I have anything other than respect and admiration for Mal,” Infinity snapped, rising from her chair. Sunset had been holding her hand; now she squeezed it tightly. The red-eyed Terat wasn’t sure if that was in warning or in support, but she squeezed back then released her, moving around the table. “You’re saying whatever you think will get you what you want, and trying to batter me down with quantum, too.”

“I can see that,” Dorchester said, rising as well. He moved behind her and touched her back. Infinity wasn’t sure what he did, but Dorchester had the ability to share some of his powers. Whatever he’d done made Clarion’s rage subside to a more moderated level. Infinity knew he’d blocked some of Clarion’s effect on her. Dorchester had leveled the fighting field.

“Now… Do you all agree with him?!” Infinity snarled as she ignored Clarion. Dorchester sat back down, his eyes on her. “Do you want to worship Mal?” There was a mix of agreement and denial, and she rounded on the group who’d said yes. “Why in the name of anything would Mal want us to worship him? He wants to lead us, but only if we want him to! He’s never asked to be treated like anything other than a nova who has a great vision for us. Mal saw what we’d rise to, and what our children can become. Why do you persist in this fantasy, this need for a crutch that Mal never even offered! It makes him sad to know that you won’t think for yourself.”

“Mal loves us! We should worship him whether he deserves it or not,” Clarion said, turning to address the novas. Here, Dorchester’s loan couldn’t help her. It was down to her words versus Clarion’s and he had an advantage. “He’s our leader, and really, that’s not no far from godhood. He’s the most powerful of us, and deserves veneration. His rise to godhood should be our primary goal – we are the Cult of Mal.”

“Yeah, and people have never thought the word cult was okay unless they were talking about a band or in one,” Infinity retorted. “It’s got a bad connotation regardless of what era you’re talking about. And yeah, it’s a baseline word, so fuckin’ what? So is all the other god damned words we’ve used here today. Why redefine cult to somehow be something grand and good? And no, I’m not talking for the zips’ benefits. Do you know that the rest of the Teragen looks at us like religious nuts? That’s because every time we talk about worshiping Mal, they say, ‘He’s just a very powerful nova. He had a great vision for us, but that’s it.’ That’s what we should have for him – an admiration of a great vision.”

“You blaspheme-”

“And you are an idiot who can’t see the truth,” Infinity replied, cutting him off. “For years you’ve tried to lead the Cult into a religious group, and when you woke up and found that the Apostle had pulled his Judas trick and committed suicide by Norman, you thought you had a chance. But you never had a chance, because this group won’t tolerate you deifying a man who is a father and mentor many of us. You push and push and we don’t move because we’re never going to! You want to lead us there, but we don’t want to go. Clarion, we’ve divided the Cult for long enough.” Her voice softened. “Give u p the religious bullshit that Mal hates anyway and work with us to show the Teragen what we’re worth. Stop the laughing behind our backs and make us strong.”

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At this point, Clarion was about to respond again, when Scripture spoke up. "David.. Sit down and SHUT UP." the last part was said with such power, such quantum assisted energy that everyone, litterally everyone in the room who wasn't sitting instantly sat down, the shut up part was directed to Clarion, and for a moment Clarion looked like a landed fish, gaping as he was and it was clear as he spoke that Scripture had added something else, for nothing but gibberish managed to come out of his mouth as he tried to speak, and some of the folks who agreed with Clarion were now quite suprised, they had assumed that Scripture, as the one who founded the cult approved of that direction, despite his reaction to Marcel's betrayal.

"I am going to say something here, I meant this group to be a place of spiritual goals within the path of teras, to pursue another path within the grand vision of Teragen, to truly venerate Micheal is to emulate his growth as a nova, not to stand around singing his praises. David, to suggest that blaspheme is possible for one who follows the Null Manifesto is to speak stupidity, you may be a member of the one race, but your vision is as short sighted as baseline with blinders on... Micheal wants us to become his peers, to grow as novas, not to his worshipers abasing ourselves at his feet, as though we were a bunch of monkey's around a altar."

He looked around the room and some of them had the decency to look ashamed of themselves. "I had feared with Marcel I allowed things to go too far in directions I didn't approve of, but I hoped removing him would interject a measure of wisdom within this community.. clearly it has not taken with some of you. So be it, Infinity, you were willing to speak up against this folly even when no one else was, and you are in many ways less powerful then most of the others in this room at this time... at this time, you will be more, and make each of us more then we are in the future, you lead."

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Dozens of eyes focused on her suddenly. Infinity felt as if the ground had dropped out from under her. From those gathered around the table to the watching novas from the seats around the room, they were suddenly all looking at her. Oh, fuck me.

“Yeah,” one of the people who had been behind the idea of worshipping Mal spoke up. “Lead us, Infinity. What are we doing?”

She glanced to Scripture, but he had rendered what aid he was going to give. Or rather, his expression said, If I step in here, you aren’t the leader. “We’re making a campus,” she said, not sure where that had come from.

“What?” one of the second gens asked. “Like… a school-campus?”

“Yes,” Infinity said, surprising herself as the idea seemed to form itself in her mind. She half-suspected interference from a telepath except these were her ideas. They were things that she had thought or talked about with Mal or other Children. They were all the discussion and tidbits and pillow talk and everything she’d done in her life crystallizing into one sharp moment, as if she'd no choice but to arrive here, at this moment. “A school of Teras.” She waited for the laughter to start.

“That’s… cool.” Tylan was staring at her as if she were something exciting and new. A low murmur of agreement followed his statement.

“Yeah, a place for novas to go and study together, more than sitting together in rooms at the Blackburn.” Her words were coming faster as she began to ride the wave of energy rising in the room. It hadn’t been like this when Clarion had unveiled his project. This was vitalizing the Cultists like never before. “Something organized, with everyone working together to better all.” That was Puck and his excited talk of Exalt! and what could be. “We’re supposed to learn about Teras on our own, but we need a broad range of perspectives and knowledge. That’s scattered across all the factions right now, each one feeling a different part of the elephant.” Surtr, snorting at the idea that any one faction understood Teras. “Something for all Terats.”

“But we’ll need money,” Sunset said, “land and plans and time.”

“Clarion found us lands,” Infinity said, turning to nod at him. Speaking to him, she said, “You had the foresight to know we’d need something like this.” It was a peace offering and she wasn’t sure if he’d take it, but it was there. “Puck will help me make money. Plans we can buy… and time… we have that. Some of it. Enough.”

“What will the courses be?” Dorchester asked, curious.

“No, not like that.” Infinity shook her head, drawing on Norman telling her about the way old philosophy schools had been run; she’d listened raptly only because she’d loved him. “Novas who wish to teach come and share, and those that wish to learn come and listen. It wouldn’t be structured into grades or classes, but it would be somewhere to go and learn from all the factions of the Teragen. Harvesters, Primacy – they’d show us everything, all the pieces of the elephant!”

“That’s the mascot!” Sunset chirped.

“But that’s only one part,” Infinity said, “the short term goal. We also need to leave. We have to go off of the world. We’re never going to reach greatness with the baselines whining and crying over our power. We need to find a new home. Earth is our womb, and she’s been a good one, but to truly grow up, we’re going to need to leave.” That was Mal, and Scripture gave her a little nod.

“But how are we doing all of this?” Solomon asked. The nova with the black skin leaned forward, his white eyes intense. He was smart and one of Clarion’s ilk and Infinity knew this was another test of her leadership. “We’re not organized for either of these undertakings.”

“No, not yet. First we’re going to have specialized groups within the Cult,” Infinity said, nodding to him. “Look, until this point, if we needed someone beaten up, we had to go hand in hand to NV. We need to do our own security. Train, recruit and be ready. Same thing for our PR. We have rotten PR with the rest of the Teragen. At best, they discount us as religious kooks; at worst, they see us the group that produced the fuckin’ Judas-Apostle. I mean, the list goes on and on. We need to have people to take care of Cult business, within the Cult. And we need them to be organized. So alright…” Infinity set her opphone to record and put it on the table. “Let’s get some volunteers. Who feels called to head up our PR group?”

There was a moment of hesitation; then a couple of hands went up. Infinity smiled and started to organize the Cult.

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