The Memory Cube's chime and low-pitched hum signalled Krelian that Fei was about to make his next move. Though all of his apprehension at what the Contact could do at this point had fled, his curiosity got the better of him. When he was finished reading the cube's output, he tried to keep it to himself, but he started to snicker, and it escalated into a full-blown cackle.
"What is it?" Miang asked, her tone neutral. Hearing her use Elhaym's voice disturbed him more than he wanted to let on.
"It seems that Fei has convinced 0808191 to join his ranks."
Miang let herself chuckle. "My, how existentially desperate they both must be at this point..."
"Yes, but which of them is more desperate, I wonder?" Krelian snickered again.
"Even the last of Cain's shadow now defies us. What a waste."
"Come now, without Kahr, we wouldn't have any of this, would we?"
Miang shifted her weight and ran her hand through her hair. "There are always much more...efficient ways to handle hypothetical situations like this from now on. It would have been a much rougher victory without Kahr, but we would have done it."
"We'll just learn to avoid this mistake in the future."
Krelian returned to his calculations and looked up at the newly returned Zohar Modifier. Its red glow reflected off the inside of the Merkava beautifully, bathing the entire engine block in a rich, ruby light.
"I've never had much of a taste for red," Miang said, keying in a sequence Krelian had showed her earlier. Several thousand human-sized angels wels began to fly themselves into the surface of the Zohar Modifier. Each impact left a small gold glow in its wake, and the more the impacts combined, the more gold it became.
"When Deus was fully integrated with the Zohar Modifier, it was gold. The Wave Existence's will to freedom and connection with the Contact has tainted it red. It may take hundreds of thousands, but we will need to quell this will to freedom," Miang had said earlier. It was easy to write the program to direct the angels' wills into the Zohar Modifier, but suddenly, not so easy to think that the angels used to be people, and that their destiny was to have their will stripped from them. Krelian shook it off. He hadn't cared about the masses since he'd been a war general. There was no reason to have those feelings any more.
Krelian shifted his eye downward, to the remains of Original Weltall. It was fused into the front side of the monolith, rapidly decaying with each blow from the angels.
"They are insects, all of them. Insects is what they always were, and what they shall ever be," he said, mostly to and for himself. He stood with his back to her, monitoring the process from a different console.
A couple more keystrokes caused the reintegration process to quicken dramatically. The rest of Lacan's gear crumbled away, but a good deal of red remained.
"You are apprehensive," she said, using what he constantly mistook for Sophia's voice to breathe life into her words. "Is there a way you can be calmed?"
"Your body is...too similar to Sophia's for me to concentrate," he admitted.
"Do you want it?" she asked neutrally, as if she was offering to let him borrow a book or an article of clothing. "I only care about this body because it belongs to the current incarnation of the Anti-Type. I would rather it not be harmed, but I do not think you would do anything like that."
"If I told you that I didn't want it, that would be a lie, however...it's less about the body and more about its owner. No offense intended, of course."
Several more minutes of calculations and data entry passed, and the Zohar Modifier was gold around the edges, but still orange toward its center.
"I think it's time we chatted with the owner," Miang said, keying in a sequence that extended a platform out to the Zohar Modifier's eye, but didn't stop the incoming stream of angels. She beckoned him to follow, and he obeyed.
The platform was large enough to fit ten people shoulder to shoulder, so there was no fear of falling involved. The ceiling above them was as endless as the drop below them, anything beyond the warm orange glow of the Zohar Modifier seemed as distant as stars in the night sky. While he was taking in the view, Miang had made her way ahead of him by at least thirty paces. An angel passed through her and flung itself into one of the Zohar's outer edges, leaving a much brighter gold spot than any of the others. Several other angels began to follow suit and Krelian kept his distance. When she reached the green eye, she reached her hand out to him, and together, they walked through the ether-like liquid to the slowly re-forming Kadomony.
The darkness that surrounded her was vast and deep.
The concept of time had floated away from her since Miang had taken over her body.
She was not in pain, and she had a residual self-image in this place, wherever it was. Her body and hair appeared to be her own, and although she was naked, she didn't feel vulnerable. A low hum that gave off a protective air followed behind her wherever she had attempted to walk.
Before she awoke to this stage, she had been soaking in the memories, the sum of the lives she'd experienced on this world, until they ran together. When she was conscious and in control of her body, it was a tumultuous emotional experience trying to fit together what little she remembered of being Sophia. Who was Elhaym Van Houten? Was she just that mediocre, failing, awkward Solarian soldier, or the Holy Mother of Nisan? Could one have existed without the other, and would one of them have to die for the other to live on? In the dark, still space she was finally given to collect her thoughts, she finally found the answer – that she was not only both Elly and Sophia, but that Elly and Sophia were not opposite forces. Remembering her lives in Nisan, Zeboim, hundreds of them, even the first life that she had once she had divided from Miang, she found that all of them fit together, with the same will, for the same ends. Temperaments and political affiliations, talents and fears, she had experienced them all, but one thing, besides the Contact, came down to her at her center.
Just as Miang served Deus, she served the Wave.
From trillions of possibilities, this organization of events was one of many that would result in the Wave Existence's freedom. A nudge here and a jolt there, although invisible to the naked eye, subverting the destiny Deus tried so hard to root them to, the path of the Contact and the Anti-Type spiralled the Wave closer and closer to freedom.
If Miang's intent was to destroy her, this had backfired spectacularly. For the first time in ten thousand years, the Anti-Type was her whole self.
"You do not frighten me, Myyahele." The pronunciation of Miang's true name fled her mind's understanding, but her voice carried it correctly. To call her something other than Myyahele in this place would be a lie.
For the first time in ten thousand years, the Compliment stood before the Anti-Type. They were each others' reflections, save for the color the hair and their countenance. Miang was serene and unreadable, as always, but now Elly had her own serenity, her own confidence.
"Elehayym, at last, you have awakened. No longer a half-broken, blind thing, remembering nothing, staggering through the rough, heavy, physical world. You are now as you should be – thought and ether. In this state, you are truly my equal. Join me once more, and we will be rid of this solid, depressing nightmare."
"We were never meant to be one."
Miang held up a hand and Elly was compelled to touch it. A memory jolted through both of them – a short time after they had given birth to the last of the Gazel, they let out an agonized cry. Cain watched, completely stricken in terror, his brothers and sisters clinging to him as if he had an explanation for what was happening. "FREE ME!" Elehayym had howled. Bones crunched, the air crackled to life with ether, and Elly and Miang stepped away from each other, smoking and glowing, but undamaged.
In the present, Miang gripped her hand tightly, but no pain accompanied it, and she kept her face neutral. "Your struggle to separate yourself from me has caused immeasurable suffering to others."
"If your will was something other than to remain a slave to Deus, I would not be so repelled."
"As ever, you misunderstand. I am the will of Deus. Is there a being greater than Deus? Is there any other being that allows me to be as I am, and work as I do? I am no slave. I am."
"And yet, you wouldn't exist if not for me."
"If your will keeps us from Deus' ascent into true freedom, I will have to suppress and bind you as the Wave Existence is bound to the Zohar. I do not wish to do this. It lessens both of us to be at odds with each other."
"What reward is there in serving a machine made to destroy?"
"What reward is there in serving the mewling, puking, wretchedness of the physical world and its trappings? Do you seek to fashion yourself a Goddess? If you joined with me willingly, you could look outward as you wish and witness the destruction of countless worlds."
"You have lived many more lives than I have, but somehow, you've learned all the opposite lessons, and come to the diametrically opposite conclusions. I am the will of the Wave Existence, and they wish for nothing more than their freedom. No gods, no goddesses, no war, no power. Just a return to their dimension, to be tied no longer to this dream of half-baked, meaningless conquest. You talk of being unfairly bound to physicality, but struggled for millennia to win back Deus' physical body, to rebuild her physical engine, and retrieve the physical object that powers her. And what is Deus' great plan? To scour the universe and cover it in flat destruction? Beings of much smaller stature and destiny have formulated more elaborate plans and executed them on this world alone, in less than their maximum lifespans. Deus' vague conquest of the universe is meaningless without a connection to its inhabitants."
"Long before us, Deus' creators sought to end an interstellar war with her. They drove themselves mad creating blades that were beyond sharp, bullets that were always in their victims, their enemies brutally murdered and put on display. Humans have always dreamed of their own death, and Deus was that dream made flesh. Deus was built to give the people what they always wanted in their heart of hearts – their own extinction."
"If that is so, what happens when everything and everyone is gone? What and who do you relate to? How will Deus define herself? Who will remember her?"
"Why, we will, of course," Krelian's voice came from behind Miang.
He stepped into view, naked as herself and Miang, and she reflexively covered herself in his presence. "Krelian...what have you done that you can exist in this space? This place is not for you..."
Krelian motioned behind him, his face not betraying his annoyance. "Beyond this infinite dark space lies the approximate place of your birth: Kadomony. All of us are in the center of the eye of the Zohar Modifier. When the Eldridge crashed on this planet, the original Kadomony was flung from the eye, into the place that became the cradle of our civilization. If you have the will to step just outside, you will see the current reconstruction of Kadomony being rebuilt by my nanomachines. It's not exact, and it doesn't even look like the original, but I daresay it looks and functions much better than the old one. There will be no more uncontrolled Contact situations from now on."
"That doesn't answer my question, Krelian." Where did the serenity and confidence she had had moments ago fly from her in his presence? He was an insect.
"I have done nothing grander than walk through the eye of the Zohar Modifier with Miang at my side. It was not so before, and I did not plan it this soon, but when I walked through moments ago, my body, such as it is, was fully integrated with Deus. I expected much more resistance, but since Deus' resurrection has been impossible without my nanomachines, I'm technically as much a part of her as you or Miang is, Elhaym, or...may I call you Elehayym, as your name truly is? I think I've earned that right, given the lifetimes I've spent researching you, thinking of you, working to be one with you..."
Anger crossed her face and Krelian tilted his head back, bracing himself for her wrath. "How exactly does that entitle you to anything of mine, Krelian?"
"Isn't all of this better than your silly little life as a soldier in Solaris?"
Her eyes narrowed. "My destiny has been my own eons before your most distant relatives were born. I exist as myself with you or without you. I serve the Wave with you or without you. Everything you have done up until now proves that you oppose the will of the Wave." She had no idea where this fury was coming from. Five hundred years before, as Sophia, she only endeavored to be kind to Krelian, to platonically and purely ease the pain she saw in his heart. Sophia was not completely pure, but her feelings for Krelian had been, and still were. That's why she shrank away from him.
"Your proximity to the Wave has made you aggressive, I see. This close to its heart, you are awash in what can only be compared to its stir-crazy neurosis, but on a much larger scale. The Wave cannot act on its own, so it enacts its will through you and through Fei, but does it need to be that way? My intent is to make peace between the Wave Existence and Deus, to give it a broader spectrum of communication. Together in cooperation is the only way I would choose to survive once we take leave of this wretched world."
"And what if my own will is not to leave this world at all?"
"The problematic origin and attachment of Anti-Type and Contact will be meaningless once I make contact with the Wave Existence. You have been as bound to Fei as the Wave to the Zohar. Your instincts are to reach for the same thing over and over again, but why should you when there are so many other possibilities around you? If I could speak with the Wave Existence, know it, understand it, we may need not barrel into the void only to destroy, and I could free you of your backwards attachment to that mediocre existence. We are a lot alike, the Wave and I."
"And if the Wave rejects you...?"
"Cain once tried to take the Wave Existence from Point Bethlehem by force after he had killed you and Lacan for the first time. It observed that Cain was very fond of his own face, so to punish him for killing his scions, the Wave removed him of it. I am prepared for this eventuality. Cain made the mistake of showing that he cared for something, and that made it easy to take away. Blessings forever upon him and every mistake he has ever made – he has taught me exactly what not to do. Me, I care for nothing, save you, Elhaym. There is nothing the Wave Existence can take from me, and it would never, ever hurt you."
An uncontrollable wave of anger swelled within her and spilled over into actions. "You are an insolent cheat! We will not have you!" Her voice was much bigger than itself, and seemed comprised of things she'd heard or said throughout her previous lives rather than her own words and thoughts. She had heard Dominia yell at someone for being insolent so many times at Jugend that she swore she'd never use that word herself for any reason.
To the angels outside Deus' body, observing the Zohar Modifier as it yellowed, a brilliant resurgence of red coincided with Elehayym's outburst, and Miang's gaze snapped behind her judgmentally.
Krelian put his hands up. "Wave Existence, if you do not resist, nothing can be taken from you. Why struggle?"
"The Higher Domain is far beyond your capability to imagine," the Wave said through her, a recompiling of words Elly had first heard from Krelian. "We will not be barred from it because you yearn for a god to exist where there is none." She began to float and started to see herself glow green. She felt like a radio station changing channels to form words that she already knew how to say.
"S-stop making them angry!" she cried, with and in her own voice.
"If you damage your only tools to communicate, you will remain bound indefinitely. Once Deus exacts her revenge, we have no reason to keep you bound here. Take me and break me, Wave Existence. I am not marked for any destiny but my own. Preserve Ouroboros, I beg you, and break me instead. I am nothing. I am worthless! I am made to be broken!"
She hadn't seen Krelian filled with this much fervor since his halcyon days in Nisan with Sophia. She knew that expression. He was not on his knees, but he was begging. She found herself floating further away from them and extended a finger in his direction. "You...are not the Contact." These words were once Grahf's, and they sounded strange in her voice.
"The Contact does not need to be one person!" Panic started showing in his eyes. He truly believed what he was saying, and Elly understood it, but she didn't want the sacrifice or attention to come from him.
"You are not capable of being the Contact." It would have been better if it had been a stranger. The way Sophia's life had moved Krelian to go this far made her regret ever standing up and attempting to be a leader.
"The Contact is not here, it's true, but how successful has the Contact been after all these years at freeing you? Working with only two entities when you could have made thousands...this did not need to go on this long! You don't need to do this alone."
"How do I know you can be trusted, riding in on the coattails of the Compliment?" The Wave Existence looked balefully through Elly's eyes at Krelian, who reflexively gulped, then at Miang, neutral and illegible, but staring straight at them.
Then Krelian said something she did not expect to hear. "There's no way I can prove that I'm trustworthy, but I've given up any lives I had a chance to live so I could be here to do this."
"Krelian, of Nimrod, drenched in blood. You, who fashioned the current Contact to be drenched in even more blood. You, who dissolved the power of the Gazel and destroyed the last of Cain's connection to Deus. Only when you know all, shall you truly understand."
She was a barely humanoid form now; a white-green glow, featureless except for her limbs. She floated back down toward him and moved to place her hands on either side of his head, just above and behind the ears. Krelian tilted his head upward hopefully, but what Elly had once been was knocked back by a sudden burst of ether emanating from the palm of Miang's hand.
"I'm sorry," she said dispassionately, but politely, "but I can't let you do that."