Miriam waited, but no blaze lit up the heavens, no tremor shook the world. She had a report of an air strike at Morgan Bank, but had the sin buster unleashed its promised destructive power, there would be no such report. The transmissions from the stragglers in Solarfex and Industries would have abruptly ceased. They still prayed, expecting to be martyred. In all likelihood they would be, but now Morganite mercenaries would do the deed.
It was easy to picture the faithful awaiting their deaths there, for they were mirrored in the crowd watching her in New Jerusalem. Most were injured, exhausted, very old or very young. Having already survived two of the University's attacks, they fearfully awaited the settlement armies' assault. Any Believer still physically capable was shoring up the defences or preparing to fight.
As the apocalypse approached, Miriam had preached to her people, giving them strength through God's word. She promised the sin busters would deliver them. Now silence filled the hall. Their eyes were all on her, beseeching her. She had called forth the end, but the end had not come.
The settlements' orbital installations were online again, so the sin buster could have been intercepted. They might have got lucky once, but she still had two chances. Another for the Morganite territories, as promised. Then she would decide on the most urgent target for her final strike, should another be necessary at all.
That scenario left the attack on Morgan Bank unaccounted for though. While all manner of things happened in the haze of war, it was more likely that Zakharov's monster had not been as broken as he seemed and committed sabotage. If so, the Believers were finished.
That was not the worst possibility though. Miriam's chest tightened. It could be an act of God. Had her plans been against his will? After her ordeal, she had been so sure, so certain that she was his instrument. She ordered atrocities in his name. Then they found the Tree of Life and it was an abomination. The same was true of the crown of the Tree of Knowledge. Perhaps it was a mercy that the Flaming Sword merely proved useless. Had it all been a mistake, God intervened to stop her. The false prophets could deceive even the elect and she would be tormented forever.
A priority message from the Hive blinked up on her quicklink. It was certain to be about the sin busters. She looked at her congregation. "My brothers and sisters, I must leave you for now, to discuss strategic matters."
She paused for a moment, then continued, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen."
Miriam hurried off as the flock prayed for her and for themselves. Once she was alone, she accepted the call. A holo of a woman's head appeared, her expression furious. "You betrayed us!"
"How so?" Miriam asked mildly.
"Don't play the innocent! You promised two planet busters, but only returned one. Worse, its reactor is not upgraded, but ruined." She hid it well, but Miriam could sense the fear in her voice. The Hive too was hard pressed.
"I acted with honest intentions. Had I meant treachery, the sin buster would have been returned primed and in flight. The second one was delivered that way to the Morganites, our mutual enemy."
"That's no excuse. You will feel the Chairman's wrath!" That threat might have held power in the Hive, but not here and not over Miriam.
"Yang will have to join the line. I shall pray for you." Miriam turned the quicklink off. The settlement armies were already closing in on her position, the sin buster had been the Believers' last hope to force them to see the light.
Yet Miriam had reason to hope now. Worldly victory was no longer possible, but her salvation might be. God had not forsaken her. It had been her mistake to let Adam eat from the Tree of Knowledge. She sent a message to Kola. "The sin busters have failed. The ideal must answer for this."
Kola walked in front of the four Templars who dragged Adam into the room. The ideal's heavy restraints seemed unnecessary, for he was in little better shape than the last time he was brought to her. The old bruises had faded somewhat, but he had gained new ones. The Templars pushed him to his knees and he crumpled. They yanked him into a halfway upright position.
It surprised Miriam somewhat that Kola came personally, as he was organising the defences. But truly, they were in God's hands now and the matter of the ideal was important.
"Why did you fail me?" Miriam asked, walking over to Adam so that she stood above him.
Adam flinched at her words, unable to meet her gaze. "I did everything I could." His voice was little more than a whisper. He didn't seem to be lying though, at least not outright.
"Did you think you were saving the world? You haven't, for this world is not our home. Instead, you deprived millions, and any human that may yet come of the possibility of salvation." It had been a risk of course, but he seemed so fully broken, so desperate to escape his predicament, so eager for an intellectual challenge. And the Believers desperately needed those weapons.
He shook his head with as much vigour as he seemed capable of managing. "I'm a biologist."
Miriam took a step back. A biologist. "And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. Whatever Adam called every living creature, that was its name." Named for a faith he was designed to be incapable of believing. Zakharov's sense of humour, as seen in his blasphemous magnum opus.
Adam remained silent. This would not be a revelation to him, he had read the Bible before escaping the University.
Miriam studied him. "You said you could do it." Under threat of throwing him back to the locusts, back to the pertinence square. Having worked in Zakharov's labs was clearly not a sufficient selection criteria.
"You seemed to know what you were doing," Kola said, gripping the hilt of his sword. The ideal University citizen would know a bit about engineering. Enough to fake competence, not enough to actually do something so difficult and specialised. People would do anything for torture to stop.
"I never worked on the singularity before. I tried my best."
A distant explosion echoed. The armies must have reached New Jerusalem. Without an overt miracle, it would only be a matter of time until the base fell.
Kola drew his sword. "Shall I kill him?"
Adam looked up at those words and nodded. Now one of his eyes was brown, the other silver. A blink and the silver turned black. The red rims remained.
Should he die? Miriam had left Zakharov to live or die, as the Lord desired. He'd survived three days under rubble, just like she had. He had asked for his life, while this creature wanted death. For all his wickedness, Zakharov was a man, while this new Adam was only man's creation, not God's.
Miriam touched the cross on her necklace, then shook her head. "The wretch is not worth it. Frankenstein can have his monster back. Let Zakharov remember that he started this war."
Adam slumped. No Templar touched him. Looking at its broken body, Miriam recalled it came to challenge her, but also to flee Zakharov. It failed on both counts.
She turned to Kola. "This base will fall soon and we shall claim our eternal reward. Let us prepare." The main priority would be to destroy all records of the identities of her Believers among the other factions. They would still offer a possibility for humans to find the way, the truth and the life. If there was no more hope of finding salvation it would only be fitting that this new Adam should usher in an age of soulless gene freaks.
Once all was done, she would face judgement from one far greater. She had little time and much atoning to do.
Zakharov sat on a Baikonur bed and sipped his drugged tea. The Believers would never trouble him again. His part of the war was won, though it didn't feel that way. Everyone in the Marine Institute was dead, Academy Park a shadow of itself, ravaged by genetic warfare, University Base reduced to rubble.
Let the Spartans and the Hive wage a war of total annihilation on the far shores. The Hive were in league with the Believers and the Spartans had not come to the aid of the University when needed. They were not great minds, and the more losses they took, the less of a threat they were to the weakened University.
With the announcement that New Jerusalem had fallen, Zakharov had left UN Headquarters to return to his own territories. To help organise the rebuilding efforts, but also just to be home and with his surviving friends. Baikonur was the base closest to what had been Believer lands, but had ironically been spared most of this war, only being shelled in passing as the Believers retreated from University Base. Only. Now it was an important part of the supply chain for the clean-up.
Someone knocked at his door. Zakharov's face contorted involuntarily and he could feel tears well up. He took a deep breath and the episode passed. He would see a therapist again soon, but with so many people traumatised, being top priority only meant so much. And wounds needed time to heal, if they ever did. Whoever came was not at fault for his misfortune though, so he feigned composure. "Enter!"
A young lieutenant stepped in, dressed in civilian clothes, but her rank displayed on a free floating holo. "Provost, we may have found the person you were looking for."
"Miriam Godwinson? If so, put her in isolation. She's too dangerous for company and I can't face her now." Zakharov had asked that if Godwinson should be captured, she should be brought to him, alive. He did not yet know what he would do with her. Her followers killed millions of his citizens, including most of his friends. She had spared him in the rubble of University Base, but he had been buried for three days. His most intense anger had passed, mostly through exhaustion. And he still wanted the triumph of showing her the truth of this universe and getting her to acknowledge it. If he succeeded, it would be the only triumph of this war.
The lieutenant shook her head. "No, not Miriam." That was unsurprising. Morgan wanted Godwinson every bit as much and had offered a huge bounty on her. Energy he should probably invest in rebuilding, but if Morgan wanted to waste it on vengeance, it was all the better for the University. Godwinson was probably too eager for martyrdom to be taken alive in any case.
A drone pushed a broken man in a wheelchair into the room. Zakharov's eyes widened. His hands shook and he put down his cup before he dropped it. This was a wrecked specimen, not an ideal of humanity. All the same, Zakharov knew who the man was. "Adam?"
"Yes." Adam said without looking at him.
Zakharov had barely thought about Adam in the last few weeks. Events overtook him, to be euphemistic. Ordering the bases scoured for the runaway ideal seemed as distant as Earth, the Xynan-Dylan protocol irrelevant. Yet their attempts at retrieving Adam brought the assassination of Franz Ferdinand to mind.
Zakharov swallowed back the bile that filled his throat and gripped the edge of his bed to stop the trembling. "I hope you enjoyed your sabbatical."
Author's note: Given the arc of the novels, I actually quite like the ending of Twilight of the Mind. I felt the urge to write a more cheerful conclusion nonetheless.