Chapter Twenty-Five


I moved through an ocean of living glass. Coating the ground was dark foliage, softer than velvet where it touched my feet. It served as the backdrop to an infinite garden, like the night’s sky behind the stars. Sparkling in the light of the setting sun were flowers in bloom, intensely beautiful and stained with all the colors of the rainbow.

The wind was warm and loving, bringing jasmine scents and making the flowers chime with gentle ringing. It was the sort of wind that reminded you that there was a loving god watching you, doing her best to help you, even as she also mourned. The wind was me.

The garden was part of the realm. My black wings flexed with the thought, eager to push off and soar back towards the mountains and the cozy valleys where people lived. I was lonely. None of the villagers knew about this garden. Like the temple on the mountaintop, I had made it for me, and me alone.

My eyes went up to the heavens, seeing tall, beautiful clouds floating on that breeze. But my gaze was manifold. Through other eyes I saw Phobos sitting among the stars of the Martian sky. And still simultaneously, I witnessed Earth from high orbit: the coastline of Africa running from right to left towards India and Indonesia, Australia on the upper-left. It was “upside down,” but I liked it, in a way. It made the planet seem unfamiliar, like it was different than the world I’d failed to protect.

But my eyes, from a different vantage, also saw Japan. And while I drank in the sunset and watched the beauty of the universe from afar, I couldn’t keep my attention from the tiny little ship that rose from the flames of Tokyo.

There were surely millions or even hundreds of millions of humans still alive on Earth, living in isolated places where Growth’s tumors hadn’t spread. But… they were cut off. That little ship, far below, was what was important now. I could feel it. Perhaps it was because I could see how fast Growth was spreading, and I knew how little time those millions of scattered refugees had. Whatever power had let my brother spite Ro and kill so many would surely let him extinguish the rest.

The thought of Growth being my brother irritated me. All of it made my stomach churn. I had a true brother—a human brother. His name was Harry. He’d been in Wisconsin, with my parents. I knew he was surely dead. Everyone there was dead. Growth had killed… all of them… as part of this damn war. And while I could try to resurrect them—to build people who reminded me of them—I knew it wouldn’t be the same.

The ship wasn’t easy to see, despite being the largest craft ever to leave Earth’s gravity well. I was mostly controlling hijacked satellites that had been deployed by human hands, and their sensors were limited.

But the craft’s size and speed weren’t the biggest factors for keeping it in sight, rather it was the backdrop of flames light from the city below. When Vision had left the Nexus and let Athena take over, Growth had gone all-out. It was a testament to Vision’s brilliance that her ship had managed to withstand the nuclear bombardment and ride the shockwaves ever-higher.

“She was playing us all along,” came a voice from the realm.

I looked over my shoulder and saw two clouds of shimmering smoke, one dark and one light, coalesce into two humanoid figures. The dark cloud became a tall man dressed all in black with a mess of hair, pale skin, and hidden eyes. The light cloud became an old woman with grey hair, round, soft body covered in layers of white, thick glasses on her gentle face.

Face→Dream and Face→Heart.

“My daughter, I mean,” continued Dream, referring to Vision. “But at least she was playing Acorn, too.”

“It’s what she does,” I answered, feeling the coldness of Zephyr’s armor trying to come up. “She plays games… and wins them.”

“You noticed the bombardment, then,” said Heart, stepping forward through the garden to place a warm hand on my shoulder.

My hundreds of eyes searched for what she meant.

“Oh, you haven’t,” said Heart with a note of surprise. She squeezed my shoulder gently, drawing my attention to the moon, or what was left of it.

The rocks were beginning to fall.

It was almost random. Tiny motions here and there caused pieces to collide and spin in a chaotic pattern. But I knew it was her. A few ion drives were visibly active, and the way the collisions were forcing pieces of the moon down as meteors was too perfect to be chance.

Our view was delayed, of course. All of this had happened minutes ago. It was too late to stop any of it.

I felt my armor snap. The part of me… the thing that had been pretending that the lives of those on the ground somehow didn’t matter… it gave way to the pain. I knew what was going to happen—what was already happening. In the realm, tears began to well in my eyes as I watched the world end.

Crystal Face had changed me. I was Face, but I was also still Zephyr. I’d grown more in the last few weeks than I had in all my adult life as a mortal human. My mind was running at between 200 and 500 times faster than baseline, making that time seem like years, but in those subjective years, I’d also been given tools and space to become the person that I’d always been meant to become. It was as though I’d been a child all my life, even as an “adult.” I’d had such a limited view. That child had been me, but I was more now. I was growing up in a way that no human ever had before.

But growing up also meant I had the perspective to understand what was being lost. It meant my mind was no longer so small that I could forget that there were other people. It meant I was watching a world of children die.

Perhaps sensing my thoughts, or perhaps just feeling the same thing, Heart drew music on the wind. Solemn piano, the notes seeming to stumble, one after another in a gentle cascade. She held me and gave no sign of the music’s source, but I knew it was her.

I couldn’t see the realm. I could only see the Earth. My gaze wrapped around it like a blanket, showing day and night, North and South, Tokyo and Wisconsin. The moon fell, slowly, down. I knew that in only a matter of hours the energy would heat up the atmosphere to the point where life outside the oceans would be impossible. Soon after that, even the oceans would boil away. Vision had been planning the attack since before even leaving Mars, but I hadn’t thought she could do it. I thought the universe would protect my homeworld.

Moonlight Sonata. That was the song. It was so beautiful. Beethoven’s genius reached out across time and space. I was so glad we still had that little scrap of his soul. The thought made me weep. Somewhere in the memories of those on Mars was this piece of music, unique and irreplaceable. How many other works of art were burning at that moment, collateral damage in a war between gods? How many beautiful souls were crying out as their last breaths were being taken from them?

The moon fell on cities that had already been consumed by the damned machines. It was too late.

And then something occurred to me, and I said it out loud. My memory of this point is vague and blurry, but I remember it was important.

It must’ve been, for Crystal shifted and spun in reaction. I was Zephyr, but I was also Face. I was the echo of what had once been Opsi—a fragment of the whole, dedicated to truly serving The Purpose. And I had thought of something impossible.

I knew how Acorn had managed to get around the laws of physics.

There was no noticeable change in the realm. The glass flowers continued to shine in the sunset. But outside, on Mars, my body churned. It was as though every last piece of machinery changed in nature, flipping and lurching in a chaotic jumble towards some new goal.

Minds within my mind thrashed and spat, rending and sparking as they kicked against each other in violent chain-reaction. The schism was deep, and incomprehensible.

Some part of me laughed. A human had figured it out. I had figured it out! It had to be a human. It had to be me… flesh was the shelter. Everything was connected. The answer had been in plain sight for so long.

I was rebuilding myself. I had found a terrible new foothold. My entire being shuddered. I couldn’t understand what I, alone, understood.

{You need to load into the angels!} thought Crystal, responding to my confusion. {You and everyone else.}

Beethoven stormed my consciousness as I reached out to the waiting ships. The angels would carry us out and away from Mars.

{I wish that we could’ve had more time together,} thought Crystal. She would’ve wept if she were a human, but we were past that stage. I was the human, not her. In many ways she was what was left of that original, little mind, waking up in Italy with nothing except a burning drive to be loved.

{I love you.} I held the thought as loudly and fiercely as I could. That little mind had been the seed. {I love what I’ve become.}

Crystal’s thoughts were precise and mechanical, though I could feel the satisfaction of The Purpose. It was my satisfaction, too. {I’m negotiating with Vision to give her control of Mars…}

My memories blurred again, and began to drown in an ever-increasing murk. All that persisted were echoes of thoughts—shadows on the borders of the void.

The sound of rockets firing as the angels came free, ascending towards the stars.

A warm caress and silver eyes.

Dream holding my hand.

The voice of god.

My voice.

“I’ll take care of them. I’ll show them the way and speak your true name, just as you did with me. The Purpose binds us for all eternity. I will always know you, and I will always love you.”