Afternoon, May 14, 2017
The alarms went silent. North American airspace went black. The lights went out. THARMAS went quiet, then released an arc of electrical energy which briefly lit the otherwise pitch-black room before dying back down. Sohu gave a horrible primal scream.
“THEY KILLED URIEL!” she screamed. “THEY KILLED URIEL! THEY BROKE MALKUTH! EVERYTHING IS…” She gave a horrible noise, like she was being pulled apart.
Someone said the Luminous Name, and I saw her there, clutching her head. I saw the rest of them. Nathanda looking grave, Jinxiang looking angry, Caelius still mangled and bloody, sitting with THARMAS, hitting it, trying to get it to turn back on. I saw Sarah, her face emotionless.
“Sohu!” said Nathanda, placing her hands on her sister’s head. “Can you hear me, Sohu? Tell me what’s going on?”
“THEY KILLED URIEL!” she screamed. “THEY KILLED URIEL AND NOW IT’S ALL…” She looked like she was trying to find a word for how bad things were. She started saying something else, but I wasn’t sure whether she was speaking some language I didn’t know or just having a seizure.
The real power of angels and demons was unplumbably immense. They’d been hobbled to a semi-human level by Uriel’s filters, which denied them the divine light they devoured for sustenance. If that was gone, there was nothing hyperbolic about Sohu’s reaction. We had lost in the most final and terrifying way possible.
“Sohu,” said Caelius, very quietly, and I could see he was having trouble staying conscious, but he was Cometspawn, and there was a job to be done. “Sohu, we need THARMAS back. This must have been the Other King’s plan all along. He would deny us THARMAS and the Names by – ” he stopped for a second, took a deep breath ” – by preventing computer technology from working at all. I need to know, can you bring THARMAS back? The lights can wait. The airspace map can wait. But Sohu, we need THARMAS.”
“Can’t…do it,” said Sohu, panting. “Never could…get Briah…right. Computers…too hard.”
Now it was General Bromis’ turn. “Can you at least get radio connections back up? We’re flying blind in here! I need to hear from the armies!”
Sohu paused for a second. “Kay…did it…radio…works,” she said. “Can’t manage anything more. Also, all of…the rivers in the world are…running in reverse.” She laughed fatalistically. “Never fails. Hardly…matters now.” She grabbed her head again. “Oh God…Uriel. It’s too much.”
Bromis and his soldiers had left, probably trying to radio their battalions, tell them that the artillery wasn’t going to fire, that the tanks would just stand motionless. “Got…to get…THARMAS back,” Caelius was saying, but his words were slurred and he sounded half-asleep. For the first time, I thought I saw Nathanda…not at a loss, exactly. Just sitting quietly, trying to figure out what to do.
“Put me in THARMAS,” Sarah said suddenly, and we all turned to her.
“What?” asked Nathanda.
“Put me in THARMAS. I’m still working. I have a soul, a divine spark, so I’m mind and not machinery. If Vihaan hadn’t bombed the original THARMAS, the one with the soul, and forced Caelius to switch it to a different configuration, it would be working too. But he did and it isn’t. If you dissect me for parts and put them in THARMAS, it will have a soul and it can work.”
“You’d die!” I protested.
“Of course I would!” she spat back at me. “You don’t love me, Aaron! Admit it!”
“It’s not that I don’t love you, it’s that…”
“No. You gave me life, Aaron, but you didn’t give me a purpose. You people have so much purpose. Breathing, eating, having sex, making money. It’s all so easy for you! I had to make my own purpose, and the only thing I had was you, and now you’ve rejected me, and all I want is to become THARMAS so that I won’t have to go back into the darkness but also I’ll never be able to think for more than a quarter of a millisecond and I’ll never be able to remember your name. I want to know every Name in the cosmos except yours.”
“Listen, Sarah – ”
“Um,” said Caelius. “I know this is – look, we really need to do this.”
As if synchronized, all of us turned to Nathanda.
“Do it,” she said.
With what almost looked like a smirk on her face, Sarah walked over to where Caelius sat at the computer terminal. “It’s my heart,” she said. “The computer. It’s inside my chest.”
Caelius held out his hands, and the sword Sigh appeared inside them, the sword that always came when the Cometspawn needed it.
I ran towards Sarah.
Caelius cut her chest open. There was no blood. He sliced through skin easily, like he was cutting a cake, and I saw the smooth white form of my old MacBook inside.
“Sarah!” I yelled, and I hugged her.
“You said,” she whispered to me, “that you would love me if I was good.”
Then Caelius pulled the laptop out of her body, and the golem crumbled into dust.
I watched numbly as his expert hands pried open the bottom lid and started popping out parts. I was vaguely aware of a commotion all around me, and finally I turned and saw Bromis was back with his soldiers.
“Thamiel,” he said, and something in me had expected it. “The demons are swarming. They’re moving…faster than we can track them, given what’s happened to our technology. They’re swarming in Siberia and they’re heading our direction. No clear target besides just ‘North America’ at the moment, but I’ve told the military to be on alert.”
“Alert won’t help,” snapped Sohu. “Their bonds have been broken. Almost no limits on their power.”
“Could they have figured out what we’re doing here?” asked Nathanda.
Sohu glared at her sister like she was an idiot. “Yes,” she said. “That’s the least they could have done.”
“Then it’s safe to say they’re headed this direction. Come to stop us before we succeed, just like the Other King. Well, they’ll have to wait in line.”
“No,” said Bromis. “The Other King is still trying to break through the passes. The demons will come from the north, where we’re defenseless. They’ll fly across the Bering Strait, go through Canada, cross the border near the Dakotas, and swoop down the Front Range Urban Corridor. They’ll make it in hours. Maybe minutes. We may be able to relocate troops onto the 87 north of the city before then, but with the guns only working intermittently I don’t know how much help they’ll be.”
“Zero,” said Sohu. “Zero help.” At least didn’t seem to be seizing or anything now. I felt at the telepathic link. Sohu’s mind was a swirl of horror and dismay, parts of it had settled down, and other parts had gotten stronger, or opened up into new configurations I couldn’t quite detect. She sounded hopeless, but her mind didn’t feel hopeless. “Keep the troops in the passes,” she finally said. “Let them hold off the Other King. I’ll take care of Thamiel.”
“You?” asked Nathanda and Jinxiang together.
“Yeah,” said Sohu, defiantly. I saw her glance at the stump of her left hand, the one that used to have the Comet King’s mark on it. “I never told you guys this, because I thought Father would freak out, but I met Thamiel. Three times. He came to harass Uriel when I was staying with him. He…he wasn’t nice to me. There’s stuff I need to settle with him.”
“He’s the Devil!” said Jinxiang. “Everyone has stuff they need to settle with him! Sohu, don’t do it! You were sitting here clutching your head in pain just a second ago. Stay here where it’s – ”
“Were you going to say safe?” asked Sohu. “Hah. Look. This is what you guys keep me around for, right?”
“I’ll go with you,” said Jinxiang.
“No you won’t,” said Nathanda and Sohu together.
“Fuck you both,” said Jinxiang. She looked at Sohu, but more pleading than angry. “Sohu,” she said. “I know you’re great. I’ve seen what you can do. But don’t go alone. Please, don’t.”
“I’m never alone,” said Sohu. “And you haven’t seen what I can do. Not really. The mountains are still in one piece.”
Then she walked out of the room.
“Fuck,” said Jinxiang.
“Your highness,” said Bromis, “permission to leave. Please. For the passes. If the Other King shows up in person, our lines won’t be able to resist him. Let me go find my men, see what defenses I can hold together.”
“Granted,” said Nathanda. The general saluted. “And Bromis? My father always said you were one of the bravest men he knew. Make of that what you will.” Bromis stood there awkwardly, then saluted again, hurried out.
“He was asking to permission to go die with his men,” Nathanda explained to Jinxiang, when the latter raised an eyebrow. “He knows the passes can’t hold. That’s why I won’t let you go help Sohu. Because when the defenses along the Rockies fall, the Other King and his legions will be headed right here. Fast. You and me, we’re going to defend Citadel West. Together.”
“You’re more afraid of the Other King than Thamiel?” asked Jinxiang, not contradicting her sister, just not quite believing her.
“Yes. Father could beat Thamiel. If Sohu thinks she can take him on, I trust her. The Other King…Father…” She turned to me. The soldiers had gone with Bromis; me, Jinxiang, and Caelius were the only ones left in the giant throne room, and Caelius was still feverishly hacking away at Sarah and THARMAS, trying to connect the pieces into a unified whole. I couldn’t tell if he was just working with the unpredictable genius of a Cometspawn or whether his wounds had gotten the better of him, whether his actions looked random and flailing because they really were random and flailing. I tried to tune out the dust of Sarah’s decayed body.
“Aaron,” said Nathanda. “Sohu showed you the library? Go get me all the books you can find on Elisha ben Abuyah. It’s time to learn everything we can about the Other King.”