Prologue

“All right, all right,” said Reverend Jordan Ayres, rubbing his hands together. He stepped out from behind the podium in the rented ballroom and made a beckoning gesture. “Who’s ready to make himself over in the image of the King? Step right up!”

Rev had been particularly successful in winning converts to the Church of the King, his own denomination, from among the rookie legionnaires. This might have been because the older legionnaires were more jaded, or perhaps the new crop saw him as one of their own in the way the veterans didn’t. Or it may simply have been the luck of the draw. In any case, the meeting room in the Landoor Plaza Hotel was nearly half full with those who’d come to pay their homage to the King; many local civilians in addition to the legionnaires.

“Uh, Rev-this isn’t gonna hurt, is it?” The quavering voice belonged to Roadkill, one of the new recruits who’d joined Phule’s Company at the same time as Rev’s assignment as the company chaplain.

“Hurt?” Rev scoffed. “Are you gonna worry about whether it hurts? This is one of the deepest mysteries of the faith. If you don’t love the King enough to put up with a little bit of hurtin’, I’m not a-gonna push you, son. You’re not doin’ this for me, you’re doin’ it for yourself-and for him. “

“The King sang about hurtin’,” said another of the recruits, Freefall. “He wasn’t afraid to walk down Lonely Street…” Her voice carried just enough of a hint of disapproval to suggest that Roadkill was being shortsighted and selfish-that Roadkill’s faith might even be open to question.

“He asked us not to be cruel,” riposted Roadkill. “Besides, I didn’t say I wasn’t going to do it. I just want to know ahead of time if it hurts, and you don’t know any more about that than I do. The only one here who’s gone through with it is Rev, and from what he said, I guess it does hurt.”

“It don’t hurt all that much, though,” said Rev, stepping forward and smiling. Then he cleared his throat and quickly changed the subject. “Besides, there’s another choice you all need to make before you go any further-a choice you might not even realize you have.”

“Another choice?” Freefall raised her eyebrows. “Isn’t it enough for us to give up our own appearance to take on His? A face none of us was born with?”

“That’s right, there’s still another choice,” said Rev. ” `Cause even the King had more than one way he looked. Why don’t y’all set down and let me show you some holos. There are a few li’l constraints on account of bone structure and all, but even with all that, you’ve got a bunch of different models to pick from.” He motioned toward the seats, and with only a little confusion, the disciples obediently took their places.

“All right,” said Rev. “I’m a-gonna show you what y’all’s choices are, and then we’ll start. It’s pretty quick, once we do. And by tomorrow morning, you’ll all be livin’ testimonials to the power of the King!”

A hush fell over the crowd as Rev picked up the remote control for the holojector.

“Now, here he is when he first started out,” said Rev. “This is a good one if you’re young and slim. Notice how the sideburns are narrower than mine…”

The audience stared at the holo, rapt. Rev droned on.

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