A wise man once told me that some people lose their faith not because God shows them too little, but because He shows them too much.
Blessed are those whose hearts are pure; they shall see God.
I never before thought it to be a curse.
He backed slowly away from the rotting pile of flesh on the ground, the bile beginning to rise in the back of his throat. Behind him, Weltall loomed, motionless; his own Fenrir stood abandoned another few paces behind. Fei looked at him, eyebrows drawn together, and just shook his head. "That ... was the ultimate power?" Fei breathed, softly, a combination of fear and distress written across his face.
He shook his head. "It ... It cannot be. God could not be so easily defeated." His eyes were wide as he vaulted back into Fenrir's cockpit; he could only hope that his voice did not shake as badly as his knees were beginning to. "Let us continue onwards."
And onwards they went, through the hallways, into the cavernous echo of Mahanon, that which had been called the earthly Paradise from which humanity had sprung; down into the depths, surrounded by nothing but steel and light, onward to the source of all the answers.
It was there that they found the source of divine wisdom. It was there that they found the memory banks called Razael's Tree.
It was there that he felt his faith crack and fall in a thousand rough pieces, broken.
I cannot begin to tell you what I felt when first my hands rested upon the controls of the data banks we found in that vast emptiness. Surely this was not God -- surely this could not be the divine providence I had served for these many years!
But I have never been able to delude myself when evidence has been before my eyes.
A weapon ... the place -- the /ship/ -- we stood within had been constructed as a weapon, the power core another weapon. 'God's army', transported from star to star to rule the universe.
I stood at the contact for the computer, its metal cool underneath my skin, my eyes automatically scanning and processing the data even as I felt my heart go numb.
We had been created. We had been created, not by a just and benevolent God as I had believed for these ten thousand years ... but by a machine that knew nothing of love or light.
Sick to my stomach, I still could not cease reading. It was when I found the information on Zohar -- or rather, the "Zohar Modifier", the weapon's central neural circuit and source of power, not the Manifestation of God I thought it to be -- when -he- appeared; the tangible reminder of my greatest failure. Krelian, his face taut and distant, stood behind Grahf; it was his voice that called out over the vastness.
"Ah, the hidden data from Razael's Tree."
Krelian's voice was detached; he could have been ordering a meal, from all the emotion he showed. His eyes flicked over the cavern, taking in the scene: Fei, still in his Gear, at the base of the platform; Bart, his own Omnigear having come to swift attention at the interruption; and finally, after but a moment, Citan at the terminal, pages of data flashing by more quickly than the average human would be able to take it in. Krelian's voice turned mocking as he called out, to Citan, "Move away from there. This matter is far too weighty for the likes of you." A faint sneer entered his voice at the final word.
Inside Weltall, Fei's eyes widened, and a scant second later his voice came from the outside radio. "Doc, we've gotta protect this! We can't let them have this stuff!"
Citan did not look up from where he was reading; his hand moved out quickly, speeding up the rate of scroll, until each screen appeared before his eyes and then was gone again in a flash. "You handle them!" he called back, his voice rough. "I will extract as much data as I am able to -- and if anything goes wrong, I will destroy it rather than see it in their hands!" He did not dare blink, for fear of missing a crucial bit of information; but he knew that no matter what, this could not make its way back to the Gazel -- nor to the man who stepped aside, a faint smirk still on his aristocratic face, to allow Grahf through.
I did not know how much of what I saw -- of how much was being burned across my retinas, at a speed any human would find dizzying -- was already common knowledge. Surely, if what I was seeing was true, Cain had known -- and perhaps the Gazel as well. Yet in all the times I had spoken with Cain, not once had he given any of this away in word or gesture. I only knew that I could not yet think of it -- could not allow what I saw to penetrate the shield of my detachment. Not while more information was still there to be processed.
Beneath me, I could hear the sounds of an argument, and then a battle. And then, amazingly enough, low voices; from what little attention I could spare, I could tell that Grahf was arguing with Fei. Enticing him. I could feel my teeth grinding together, but I dared not look away -- what I was seeing could, at some point, mean the fate of a world, and I knew that Grahf would do nothing to permanently injure the boy.
He needed Fei too badly to risk destroying the body he hoped would become his vessel.
The last word raced across the screen just as Krelian interrupted Grahf's conversation with Fei; it was only then that I could look up, to see Weltall lying broken across the ground, Andvari equally as destroyed by Krelian's assistants. Another henchman brought Fenrir crashing down even as I looked; I barely noticed. My eyes met Krelian's across the vast expanse; the small smile on his lips set my fingers curling into a fist even from my vantage point. He cocked one eyebrow at me, then seemed to dismiss my very presence; he turned to Grahf, and said, in a tone laced with detachment and sarcasm, "He is bait. If you kill the bait, the bird we wish to capture will fly away." I was frozen, motionless, as I looked down at the men; Krelian continued. "You understand, don't you, Lacan?"
I could feel Fei's confusion at the name that was half-familiar, half-alien; but Grahf froze instantly and backed away. It was then I realized the enormity of Krelian's true plans, the shock weighing heavily upon already stressed emotions. Perhaps I took a step forward, to rush forth and save, the avenging angel dropping from above with sword unsheathed -- but perhaps I did not, for I knew that I could not prevail against so many.
I did, at least, have the presence of mind to destroy the terminal interface before they dragged me away to be crucified upon Skull Hill. The sword bit cleanly and clearly through the metal of the console, but it did not give me any relief to see the destruction I left behind me.
Fei and Bart had been bound to posts beneath their strung-up gears; Citan had been bound as well, but Krelian had shown one small vestige of practicality, and used steel wire rather than the leather strips that restrained the other two men. Citan could feel the wire cutting into his flesh as he struggled, imperceptably slicing further into his skin with each tiny motion.
It did not stop him from trying, with blood-slickened fingers, to reach the twist where the wire came together, but he knew that struggle to be futile.
He knew that Elhaym would follow them, when she received Krelian's transmission; he knew that she would once more sacrifice herself for Fei, though she would not remember the other times she had done so, no more than she would remember the hundreds of lifetimes through which he had watched her die. For truly, she was far too much like Sophia for comfort, and Fei too much like Lacan; it was a story that had been played out more times than he could recall.
He had taken the time, when Krelian's assistants had bound him there, to attempt reason; he had tried to make Krelian see that he was simply playing a role that would lead to the same ending that had set him upon this path to begin. He had received nothing more than a kick from one of the thugs, and a hissed, "You say more than you should, old man," from Krelian himself. Bowing his head with his failure, he simply waited for the inevitable conclusion.
I cannot explain why I could not watch Elhaym give herself up to Krelian, not even to myself. I had staved off the thoughts for as long as I could, but the effort of holding off the pain from my bound wrists took all the distraction from me. Watching the sacrificial drama playing itself out on the little stage before my eyes was nearly too much for me to bear; not when I now knew the truth.
It was all for naught, was it not? Knowing what I had learned from Razael's Tree -- from the Razael System -- I could see the futility. We had been commanded to dance, puppet-like, by an unseen master we had called God, and something deep within the human soul prompted us to offer reverence and devotion to that unseen master. I was no more free of guilt than the rest of them; I too had bowed and scraped, dedicating my life to the service of a God that had been created by man's own hands.
Did they, the unknown makers of the Deus system, suspect what they had created? Had they imagined that someday, under certain circumstances, their creation could have achieved sentience? Had they programmed it to react in certain ways, to preserve itself, to create life?
Where did I fit into the schematics; was I merely an entry on the blueprints somewhere, beneath the Contact, the Mother, her children? Had all my suffering been dictated, in some memory bank somewhere -- all of my years been written by a man long aged and turned to dust, who saw me as a necessity to contain the microcosm in a profitable manner? Or -- and perhaps worse -- had I been naught but an afterthought in the ineffable operating system of a machine designed to destroy whole worlds?
Who, in short, was I?
I did not know. And the questions came after each other, fast and furious, leaving me nothing to do but bide my time, the strength having fled from me in the moment I first knew that God was dead, and it had been my hand that provided the route to the knowledge that killed Him. I had, for the first time in my span of years, no one to blame but myself.
He slept, worn to nothingness by fatigue and pain, in the bed he shared with the first mate of the Yggdrasil; Sigurd slept as well, clinging to him with the desperation of one who was not certain he would ever see his loved one again. That position was not unfamiliar; many a night had been spent thusly, in the tiny beds that the Jugend dormitories boasted. What was unfamiliar was the depth of his sleep, for he did not often give in to such needs; what was even more unfamiliar was the fact that he dreamed.
The air was thick and heavy in the cruiser's cabin; there was no night breeze to dispel it. Pale skin flashed next to golden as the sleeper restlessly kicked off the blanket that shrouded him; the heat trickled through his unconscious mind and made its way into the dream. It was the first time he had ever dreamed, for his mind did not need the escape that a normal man's would; even deep asleep, his mind recognized the oddity, and struggled to assimilate it.
Deep asleep, his mind failed.
I do not dream. It is something that my creators did not see fit to provide me with; I have never before truly felt the lack.
In my dream, the air was stagnant and weighted, the bite of the desert sapping my strength. I dreamed that I was sleeping, but that I could hear voices.
"But -- Abel, who is this?" Elly's voice, so familiar after all these years -- but calling Fei by the name he had used, that first lifetime, so long ago, before I had yet awakened.
Abel responded, his voice roughened by the desert sand. "I think -- I think he's supposed to be my guardian angel. I think he's supposed to be the one who watches over me and keeps me safe."
/--You see, little angel? You were created by man's will, yes, but God's hand was in the creation.--/
I started. :Who -- who are you?:
/--I am many, and I am one. I am all, and I am nothing. I am not God as you know God, but I have been called thus.--/
:I thought that God was naught more than --:
/--Than a computer, a machine? That is not true. For God is everywhere, and God knows everything. Is that not what you have felt? Take heart, little angel, for everything will come clear to you in time.--/
:I am afraid that I do not understand.:
/--And you will not, not yet; but the time will come. Until then -- rest. Rest, and sleep free of dreams; for I say unto you, the time is coming when all shall be made plain, and your fears shall be calmed. But until then -- forget. Forget, and your mind shall be eased, for you too have your role to play.--/
He woke, eyes snapping open in the darkness, and frowned. Something had been bothering him when he had fallen asleep, but he could not rememeber what it had been. The thought, strangely enough, did not strike him as odd, and he curled back next to Sigurd, feeling strangely relaxed.
As he drifted back off to sleep, he seemed to hear two voices, pulled from the depths of memory.
"But how did he get here, Abel?"
"I ... I don't know. Maybe God sent him to me."
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