The ongoing weekly serial concludes. Click here for the introduction,  here for Part 1, here for part 2, here for part 3, here for part 4, here for part 5, here for part 6, here for part 7, here for part 8, and here for part 9.


Chapter Eighteen


After the Dodhi, it took several months for things to fall apart. It was a busy time for all of us. Planning and resourcing multiple operations per week was no easy feat. And that doesn’t include all the streams I had to record and the bedtime stories I had to read.

The operational tempo kept egos in check. Ra and Kuk were both too busy to fight with Maahes, who in turn never appeared to sleep. He was always around when I needed him.

The breakneck pace affected my relationship with Sekmet, too. Between her running the shelter, helping with attacks in New Jerusalem, and coordinating attacks in other cities, we had almost no time to be together. This is the one thing I would change if I could do it all over again. In the final months of her life, I should have spent more time with my wife.

Or I should have killed her father.

Until the day she died, their relationship seemed to be improving. They had a lunch and a dinner together after Anatoly won my release from prison. Both were in public restaurants to discourage each from making an attempt on the other’s life. He never apologized for abusing her, but she told me he once begrudgingly admitted that he might have – might have! – done some things differently.

He even invited her to dinner at his house, an opportunity Sekmet had planned to use to kill him.

But he got to her first.

She never told him where she lived or worked, so my theory is Anatoly asked Minkle for our address. Once he got it, he hid behind the Retusa tree waiting for her to return home. I saw the shelter’s surveillance stream of the attack. He covered his face, but his bird nose and hunched back gave him away.

Once he plowed her into the ground and she was defenseless, he took his time.

Sekmet suffered.

The next day I told Nicole I had something important to do, grabbed a car, and took Sekmet’s body out to the desert, where I buried her. I didn’t take anyone else with me, didn’t have any kind of ceremony or say any words. She wouldn’t have been sentimental about her death, so there was no reason for me to be.

I also didn’t report her murder to Minkle. It had nothing to do with the fact that he still hadn’t let me leave the Johnsons’. Sekmet was in a legal gray area – de-facto married to me but de jure a ward of her father – and either one of us could have killed her without consequence. But even if we’d been on Earth and Anatoly could have been arrested and tried for the crime, I still wouldn’t have turned him in.

I had something else in mind.

A few days after her death, in the small hours of the morning, I donned my Augur wig and makeup, slipped out the back window, felt my way through the fence and down to the street where Ra and Kuk were waiting in a car.

Neither said a word as I climbed in and shut the door. They didn’t try to talk me out of it. They didn’t offer to do it themselves. They knew this was something I had to do, even if it jeopardized the entire mission. Sekmet may not have approved, but she didn’t have a vote anymore.

Her father saw to that.

Maahes had been close to Sekmet, too, but he refused to come along. I asked him. Multiple times. I thought he might set aside his fears this once, for her sake, and was disappointed to find he didn’t have the strength.

The car stopped a kilometer away from Anatoly’s house, and the three of us jumped out. We weaved our way through streets and alleyways until we ended up in his backyard. The twins put on their masks before we stepped into view of the surveillance cameras, which, apart from the dog, were the house’s only means of defense. Setting aside my dignity, I crawled through the dog door leading to the laundry room and stuck a knife into the still sleeping pet. As its legs stopped twitching, I let the twins inside. Moving into the kitchen, I washed my hands and put on a pot of coffee while they snuck upstairs. Storming into the master bedroom, they bound and gagged him, then plopped him on a chair in front of me.

“Anatoly,” I growled, “so good to see you.”

His bleary, beady eyes narrowed, then slowly widened as he began to comprehend. I nodded to the twins, and they retired to the backyard. I didn’t want them around for this part. When the news media played the kitchen security stream, I wanted everyone to see Augur alone dispatching Judge Anatoly Kasparov, and I wanted everyone to hear the reason why.

Speaking in a low whisper to mask my voice, I asked him, “do you know who I am?”

I knew full well the question meant something different to him than it would to the rest of the planet. He couldn’t speak through the gag, so he nodded. His expression told me he saw through my makeup.

“Good,” I continued. “Do you know why I am here?”

Shaking, he nodded once more.

“But not everyone does,” I pointed to the camera. “So, I will explain. God sees and hears all. He has been watching and listening to you for a very long time. He knows how you treated your daughter. Her mother died when she was very young, and you raised her, right here in this house. As a little girl, she idolized you and wanted to grow up to be a lawyer. Just like you. But you couldn’t have that. The law, according to Judge Kasparov, is for men only. So, you destroyed her dream and beat her for thinking she could have a life of her own.”

I pulled a steaming cup of coffee out of the machine and put an empty cup in its place.

“She made you coffee,” I showed him the cup. “And you threw it in her face.”

He knew it was coming and turned his face to the left. The scalding liquid splashed on his right cheek and ear and neck, sending him into convulsions of pain. He whipped his head back and forth and rocked back on the chair, all the while trying to scream through his gag.

I put the empty cup back on the counter. “You treated her as a slave. Something less than human. Who said you could do that? Was it me? Was it God? You beheld the fruit of your loins and judged her unworthy of life. She displeased you, so you killed her. Who gave you that right?”

I returned to the coffee machine and took out a fresh-brewed cup. He tried again to scream and writhed against his restraints.

“For the last year, I have been telling Prosledites that God alone passes judgment. You did not listen. Listen now! Each person is a unique gift from God. Treat them as such, and you will live. Treat them as property, and you will die.”

This time he turned to the right, letting the coffee scorch the other half of his face. His muffled screams turned to sobs, and he hung his head in defeat.

I washed the cups and put them back in the cupboard where I found them. Then I went into the laundry room and retrieved the mop handle stored there. When I returned to the kitchen, I forced him to suffer for at least as long as his daughter did.

At some point – I missed the exact moment – he passed.

When I finally realized he was gone, I dropped what remained of the mop handle and met the twins in the backyard. We walked back to the car in silence, and they dropped me off at Alan’s just before daybreak.

Except for my one-way conversation with Anatoly, none of us spoke a single word the entire evening.




I woke to pounding on the front door of the guest house. I couldn’t tell how long they had been out there but sensed it had been a while. I fell out of bed and opened the front door to find Officer Minkle standing outside, flanked by a pair of his larger goons.

It was overkill. Even his smallest goons could manhandle me.

“Good morning, Minkle,” I slurred. “How can I help you?”

“Are you going to invite me in?”

“Are you going to arrest me?”

“Nope. Just want to talk.”

I stood aside and waved him in. He motioned for the goons to stay put and took a seat at the dining room table. I shut the door.

“Coffee?” I asked, walking to the kitchen.

“Funny you should ask,” Minkle replied.

“Why? Is it not the polite thing to do when a guest enters your home?” I turned the coffeemaker on anyway. I was knackered. I needed a cup even if he didn’t want one.

“Where were you last night, Mr. Moses?”

“Right here, where you put me. The real question is, when are you going to let me out?”

“Judge Kasparov was murdered.” He watched me for a reaction, but I gave him none.

“And, naturally, you talk to the guy who has been locked up for months.”

“Did you know he had a daughter?”


“She looks a lot like your wife.” I wondered if Minkle might make this connection, but it was all he had. He couldn’t prove I left Alan’s property last night, nor could he prove I had been in Anatoly’s kitchen.

“Ex-wife,” I lied. “We’re not together anymore.”

“That’s a shame. I don’t suppose you have any idea where she is?”

“She said she was going to Konstantini, but don’t hold me to that. I haven’t talked to her in over a week. Are you trying to tell me she is Judge Kasparov’s daughter? Why wouldn’t she have said anything?”

“Why, indeed,” he replied. “Didn’t you think it unusual for a judge to personally visit you in jail?”

“Everything that’s happened since the day you arrested me has been unusual, Minkle. I’ve never been falsely charged with a crime. Never held in solitary confinement. Never been interrogated. Never–”

“I came to get your side of the story, and I have it. Wasn’t you. You’re the victim. All these coincidences add up to nothing.”

“And keeping me here has stopped terror attacks,” I replied sarcastically. “Hasn’t been a single one of those in months.”

Minkle stood up. “Judge Kasparov was keeping you here. He signed the order and renewed it every month since you left the jail. I asked him to let you go, but he kept his own counsel. The last order he signed expires at midnight tonight. In a few hours, you’re a free man.”

He got a reaction that time. If I had known Anatoly held the keys to my freedom, he would have been dead much sooner. And maybe Sekmet would still be alive.

I managed to wait until Minkle left before I started to cry.




“Sir! Sir!” Maahes closed the door to the Team Room and ran toward me.

“What’s going on?”

“Have you heard? The news from Earth?”

“No,” I pulled my hands away and showed him the bomb I was building. “I’ve been working on this all morning.”

“They killed her.”

“Killed who?”

“The President,” Maahes said. “KOG just killed President Hamill.”

I dropped the tools and collapsed into the chair behind me.

This was it.

This was the spectacular event I’d been waiting for. Ever since the new birds arrived — and thank heavens they did! — Maahes and I had been preparing for the endgame, the final series of moves that would change the face of the Prosledite religion forever. But KOG had suddenly gone underground. Before they killed the President, they had been quiet for two weeks, and I was beginning to wonder if we hadn’t already won.

I know what you’re thinking: wouldn’t that have been a good thing? Of course! And if nothing else had happened on Earth, I would have ridden off into the sunset, as promised. But I would have taken a touch of disappointment with me. I think anyone who works so hard for so long preparing for an event that slowly becomes irrelevant would feel a little disappointed.

Sadness, fear, excitement, anxiety…I was all over the map. I’d never met President Hamill, but I had voted for her. The people of Chile, where she was born, would be in mourning, as would the rest of the world. But nothing would change. The press would warn of a backlash against Prosledite refugees, and streams would be filled with analysts trying to paint this as an isolated incident. The Defense Force, I knew, would treat it as a crime, not an act of war.

Only bigots would claim this assassination had anything to do with religion.

And only I would be capable of evening the ledger.

“Maahes, find out what the Gebian press is saying. Look specifically for any mention of President Munin’s security status. Are they thinking ahead? Do they think we will target him?”

“Are we going to kill the President?”

“Not we,” I answered. “Me. What does the ledger say right now?”

“Minus fifty-two.”

“The attacks here and in Orguny tomorrow are a go. Tell the twins to pick this up as soon as they can.” I pointed to the bomb in front of us. “I need to do some recon work tonight. I’m going to take out the birds.”

“You said we could only use them once, in Nicaea Square.”

“I know, but I have an idea.”




They called it the “Red House.”

Built from red sandstone quarried on-site during the first colonial era – before Augur was born – the sprawling Presidential estate blended elegantly into its surroundings. The grounds were manicured not in the modern, opulent fashion favored by rich Gebians like Alan but in a more sparse, traditional style. Native trees and grasses were encouraged but not forced to grow, and the resulting acreage appeared, from a bird’s eye view, as a patch of wasteland amidst a highly developed city.

But this appearance was deceiving.

Embedded throughout the grounds were supremely sensitive sensors and a surveillance suite capable of teasing the slightest signal of an intruder from the messy background noise of daily life in New Jerusalem.

I had the ability to move the birds around undetected and could have used them to kill the President anytime I wanted, but that was not my aim. I, Daniel Lyon Aaron Moses Augur, personally had to strike the fatal blow and be caught in the act. The trick was getting inside, with a clear path to the President, undetected. The rest, with Maahes’ help, would take care of itself.

A different location would have been easier. I could have chosen to strike while the President was out giving a speech or at a meeting downtown with business leaders. But it wouldn’t have had the same effect. The Red House defenses were generally thought to be impenetrable. Three attempts had been made on the President’s life throughout the years, but none came close to success. If I could make it inside without being captured, it would go a long way toward cementing Augur’s legend in the minds of those not yet ready to believe.

“There, you see that?” I asked Maahes. We were in a makeshift VR room on the first floor of the Temple. I could not control the birds from the Team Room below.

“Where? What?”

“You’re looking for a balcony on the north side of the fourth floor. That’s where his bedroom is.”

I brought the birds lower and flew back over the Red House, zooming the optics in on the balcony in question.

“Got it,” Maahes said.

“Good. I’m going to bring the birds back here, and then it’s your turn. I want to make sure you can find it again on your own.”

I could see he was nervous. I’d been training him to fly since the birds arrived, and he still didn’t have the feel. He hadn’t grown up immersed in VR. I briefly considered giving the job to one or both of the twins, but even after all the time we’d been together – or, rather, because of it – I didn’t trust them.

The good news was we had time. We didn’t need to knock over the first domino in this chain until we knew we could finish it satisfactorily, and in our rehearsals, Maahes saved me from hanging to death only half of the time. I selfishly wanted to raise that percentage as much as I could before giving the go-ahead.

Maahes took the controls and started flying the birds in the opposite direction.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“To the Red House?”

“Turn around.”

“Sorry.” His shoulders slumped as he changed the birds’ course.

“You’re doing great,” I reassured him. “It took me a long time to learn how to fly these things. I can’t count how many times I failed in the simulator.”

“But we don’t have a simulator.”

“We won’t do this for real until you’re ready, Maahes, and I know you’ll be ready soon.”

“It’s Robert.”


“My real name. It’s Robert Gates. I wanted you to know. Before.”

“Nice to meet you, Robert. I’m Mo–Daniel. My name is Daniel.”

“Do you think this is going to work, Daniel? Are we going to change history?”

“I think with some help from the man upstairs, we have a chance to do something we’ll both be proud of.”

“The man upstairs?” He cocked his head. “I thought you were an atheist.”

“I am. But it doesn’t mean I’m not open to the idea of God.”

“It doesn’t?” He looked at me like I was nuts.

“Whether God exists is not a question science can answer. The evidence I’ve seen so far has led me to believe he is a myth. But I might see evidence tomorrow or next week or next month which will be enough to convince me otherwise.”

“What evidence?”

The truth was I didn’t know. I’d thought about it a thousand different ways but still could not describe what would convince me God was real. He could appear in a cloud of smoke right in front of me, and I’d think it was a trick. He could give me the power of flight, and I’d think someone had slipped a drug into my drink. But instead of having this discussion, I deflected the question.

“You being able to find the Red House would be a start,” I joked and pointed to the reddish smudge off to Maahes’ left.

“I have to learn how to navigate,” he sighed as he turned the flock in the right direction.

“Among other things,” I said and then led him step by painful step to the President’s balcony.




“That’s great makeup, boss,” Ra said, inches away from my face.

“Is that permanent?” Kuk grabbed a fistful of hair and pulled.

“Yes. And it hurts!” I slapped his hand away.

“Where did you have it done?” Ra asked.

“Remember Isis? From the shelter? She owed Sekmet a favor.”

“That’s amazing,” Kuk held a picture of Augur up next to my head. “You look identical.”

“That’s the idea.” I waved them off and took a seat at the head of the conference table in the Team Room. “Where’s Maahes?”

“I can tell you where he’s not,” Kuk shot back.

“Putting himself in any danger whatsoever,” Ra finished his brother’s thought.

“Boys, come here and have a seat. We need to have a talk.”

“Boss, you asked us to play nice, and we’re playing nice,” Ra sat to my right.

“He’s not here. We don’t say this shit to his face.” Kuk slid in next to his brother.

“After tonight, I’m not going to be around anymore. I need you to promise me you won’t go at each other when I’m gone.”

“Promise,” they said in unison, almost sounding sincere.

“Good. Now, what about your networks. Did you do what I asked?” I hopped off the chair and walked behind the twins.

“Sure did, boss,” Ra answered.

“We told them to go to ground and not come up for air until we contact them,” Kuk finished.

“But that won’t be long, right?” Ra asked.

“I give it two weeks,” his brother answered. “We’ll be back in business in two weeks.”

“Less,” Ra said, pushing Kuk, who slugged his brother’s shoulder in return. They were about to start pulling each other’s hair out when I shot them.

I killed Kuk first, then Ra. I don’t think either knew what happened. I used one of their guns, the ones they’d brought to the shelter before our first operation. I put an extra bullet in each just to make sure, then opened the Team Room door for Maahes.

“You didn’t have to do that,” he said.

“Yes, I did.” I grabbed a can of gasoline and poured it over the twins. “They would have killed you. They would have ordered more attacks. They would have undone everything. Revolutions need to know when to end, Maahes. Ours ends tonight.”

“At midnight, when I pick you up.”

“From Garden Island.” I backed toward the door leaving a trail of gasoline in my wake.

“Are you sure you’re ready?” He asked.

“Are you sure you’re ready?”

“No,” he smiled nervously. He was being coy. He’d saved me nine out of the last ten times we’d rehearsed my hanging. I would have preferred ten out of ten, but it was much better than a coin-flip.

“Good,” I said, pushing him out the door and striking a match. “If you’d said yes, I’d be worried.”

I dropped the match and watched a trail of flame shoot across the floor, engulfing the twins’ bodies in a matter of seconds.




Peeking through the back window of the house, I saw Alan right where I expected him to be: sitting in his chair watching a horror stream. It was after 2200. I knew Nicole was in bed and, even though I hadn’t read her a bedtime story in months, so was Wanda. Still away at school, Tiffany wouldn’t be in the house.

I slid open the door Wanda used when she didn’t want her father to know she’d been with me in the guest house, then tiptoed through the hallway and into the lounge room until I was right behind Alan’s chair.

I can be quiet when I need to be.

I kept one eye on the stream, waiting for a VR villain to jump out of its hiding place, and when it did, I reached around the chair and slit Alan’s throat. I clamped my other hand over his mouth so he couldn’t cry out as I waited for the blood to stop shooting out of his body. As I did, I wondered if he would be honored to know the President of Geb would be the next person the knife would kill. When he went limp, I decided he wouldn’t care.

Wiping the knife on his shirt, I re-sheathed it and climbed the stairs. I confirmed Nicole was snoring softly in her bed and closed her door. I thought about killing her, too. Even though wives don’t have official power over their husbands, she was as culpable as Alan for their son’s atrocity. Had she been inclined, she could have prevented Paul from killing those people, but she didn’t. She taught Wanda and Tiffany the same things she taught him. But I didn’t want to leave those girls without a mother.

And, besides, enough people had died.


I tiptoed into Wanda’s room. She, too, was fast asleep. I crept up next to her bed, shifted the knife on my hip so it wouldn’t snag on the sheets, and kissed her lightly on the forehead.

“Goodbye, my beautiful girl,” I whispered, then turned around to leave.

Before I got to the door, I heard a sleepy voice behind me say, “Moses?”

I turned around. “Shh, go back to sleep. I just came by to say goodbye.”

“Where are you going?” She rubbed her eyes and propped herself up on one elbow. “Why do you look funny?”

“I have some work to do.” I walked back to the bed and stroked her hair. “I’ll be gone a very long time. You’re not going to understand what I’ve done. You might even hate me. But I will never hate you. I love you more than you can possibly imagine.”

She’d fallen back asleep. I pulled the covers up over her shoulders. As she began to snore, I recited “All the Little Children” one last time.


Chapter Nineteen


It wasn’t part of the original plan to have Maahes pick me up from Garden Island.

If I hadn’t wanted to see Wanda again – and kill her father – I would have taken off from the Temple. But since I was out anyway and the island wasn’t far from Alan’s house, I decided to go with a symbolic point of departure. Augur ascended into heaven from the island. It made sense for me to ascend to the Red House from the same spot.

I didn’t think it would turn into one of the most amazing streams ever captured.

The article I saw said the couple who took it were lovers out on a midnight stroll, but that could not have been the case. I waited there for ten minutes before the birds picked me up and saw no one on the path.

I’d like to think these two were actually making love somewhere nearby – the island had a reputation for this at one point – but that’s just the romantic in me. I don’t know what they were doing. I wasn’t paying attention to anything or anyone at the time. I was too busy being frightened to death that Maahes would drop me and tried to stay as calm as is possible for a man – who is afraid to fly, remember – being carried into the sky on the wings of a dozen robotic starlings.

Most people see serenity on my face.

I see near hysteria.

It was unfounded hysteria. Maahes landed me on the President’s balcony as delicately as I could have hoped. I gave the birds a quick salute as they took off for home, then ran to the sliding glass door leading to the President’s bedroom.

I knew President Munin liked to use this balcony. I saw him there during recon flights. I also knew he closed the sliding door before going to bed. I had a plan to break through it, but first things first, I checked to see if it was locked.

It slid right open.

I stepped inside and dashed to the bed. I assumed I would only have a few seconds before his security detected me.

A little moonlight spilled inside through the doorway, and I saw the President sleeping above the covers of the bed.

In the nude.

I hesitated for a millisecond – I admit, the nudity threw me – then scrambled up the bed until I was standing over top of him.

I pulled out the knife. There was no stopping me now.

I shoved the blade down, aiming for the neck. I wanted to minimize the chances his doctors could revive him.

I covered his mouth with my other hand so he couldn’t scream, just like I’d done with Alan.

I sliced through the artery, and blood erupted from the wound. He opened his eyes and moved underneath me, but I sat down to keep him from squirming away.

My eyes flashed to the door. They would burst through any second.

I made another cut, opening his neck even wider.

He successfully turned over underneath me, but I kept him from wriggling away. He should have been able to toss me aside like a rag doll, but he didn’t. Maybe he thought it was all a dream.

He tried to scream, but the pillow muffled his cry.

I brought the knife down on the back of his neck but hit bone. It didn’t go far.

He struggled less as the seconds crawled past at a glacial pace. And still, no one burst through the door.

Half a minute later, he stopped moving. I rolled him over again his back.

His chest was motionless. His eyes fixed and still. I stood up, one foot on either side of his bloody corpse.

The President was dead.

I looked at the door. Still closed. Nobody ran in to save him or arrest me. I had overestimated the vigilance of his personal security service.

I sat back down on his sticky wet stomach, knife in hand, for an interminable amount of time, wondering what to do. I had not planned for this level of catastrophic success. The whole point was to be caught in the act, but I hadn’t figured on doing my job so well they wouldn’t even notice the act.

Finally, I dropped the knife and climbed off the bed. I opened the bedroom door and walked out with my arms held wide to each side, palms forward.

Surely there were cameras here. It wouldn’t be long now.

At the end of the hall, I took a left and walked down a flight of stairs. I was beginning to wonder if I could walk out the front door without being stopped, but at the bottom of the stairs, I startled a security guard napping on a chair in the corner.

“What? Ahh…who are you?” He stood up and shook his head to wake himself up.

I looked up at him, arms out at shoulder height, and waited for him to take me into custody.

“What is…is that blood?” He bent down to get a closer look.

Then he pushed me aside and bolted up the stairs.

How hard is it to get arrested for assassinating a President?

I knelt on the floor, prostrated myself in the position of prayer, and waited.




Once roused from their slumber, the President’s security apparatus turned out to be efficient and professional. They secured me in a holding cell on the grounds, took samples of my blood and the President’s blood, and tried to conduct a basic interrogation. I refused to say a word. Maahes would release my final stream once the news broke, and I had no plans to speak to anyone again until he’d flown me safely out of Nicaea Square.

Except I did end up talking. They sent some fascinating people to see me.

I slept for hours in the holding cell. They woke me up late the next afternoon to transfer me downtown. I was expecting some rough treatment, but I didn’t get it. I was asked – nicely! – to get into the back of the car, and the two officers on either side of me said nary a word.

The sun was setting on New Jerusalem as we left the estate and drove toward the central business district in a convoy of three vehicles. All other traffic had been diverted from our path, but it soon became clear we were not alone.

Prosties came out to greet us as we passed.

They knew we were coming.

Anxious chatter started up inside the car. It was unclear to any of us whether these people meant us harm. But as we pushed on, their fears, and my own, subsided.

The people didn’t want vengeance. They wanted to pray.

The closer we came to the river, the more people crowded the streets. Dozens became hundreds became thousands. We slowed to a crawl, and the officer next to me screamed for the lead car to “Move! Move! Move!”

Hands reached out to touch our windows. Pious eyes looked in on me from every direction. People held babies up to the glass.

I had made them believe.

I turned to the harried officer next to me. “They will not hurt us,” I whispered. “Let them be.”

His face, screwed up with anxiety and exertion, softened when he looked down at me. He nodded and said no more.

The throng closed ranks at the entrance to the jail and would not let our convoy pass. It was a textbook display of non-violent resistance. No one raised a hand against the vehicles or the officers inside.

They stood. They prayed. And they refused to yield.

When backup emerged from the jail and doused them with a high-pressure water cannon, however, they were forced to yield.

Even this they did peacefully.

As we drove inside, I turned around and watched thousands of people – many of them soaking wet – prostrate themselves on the street behind us. Then the gate swung shut, and the world slipped away.




They didn’t put me in solitary confinement.

This time, I was in the general population with the rest of the inmates. I had a cell to myself but saw dozens of eyes gaping at me from cells across the way.

I had a bed – two of them, actually, but I couldn’t reach the top – and some scratchy gray blankets. I was fed three times a day instead of one. And I was allowed outside for an hour. I never mingled with the rest of the prisoners, but that was probably for the best. The separation only enhanced my god-like status.

It was two days before they brought me into an interrogation room. I could not understand what took so long. I willed them to work faster. The sooner they convicted and hanged me, the sooner I would be done with this operation.

One way or another.

This interrogation room looked exactly like the last one. Same walls. Same wooden table. Same chairs. But it wasn’t Minkle who sat across from me this time. It was a man named Cesar.

He was probably as old as my father when he died but looked twenty years older. The Gebian sun had leatherized his skin. I never knew his rank or even if he was a police officer at all. He wore a suit and a tie and let me know by his demeanor that he was very important.

“Would you mind telling me your name?” He asked.

I looked at him.

“It’s interesting,” he continued. “Your DNA does not appear in our database, or Earth’s database, either. Can you explain this?”

I could. I asked Gabriel to have the databases scrubbed after I landed on Geb. Does a real prophet even have DNA? Perhaps, if he is in human form, but Augur’s DNA certainly wouldn’t be in anyone’s database, and I figured mine shouldn’t be, either. Had Minkle been thorough when he arrested me the first time, he would have discovered the same thing.

I wasn’t about to tell Cesar this. I didn’t plan on talking at all until I was safely in the air with the birds. That way, they wouldn’t be able to record my voice and use it against me.

“We have a problem, you see.” Cesar moved on. “Some people believe you are Augur reincarnated, but you and I both know you’re not. Maybe you could tell me where you were born? That would help us narrow our search.”

I leaned back in my chair. He could search all he liked, he’d never find anything.

“You are being charged with murdering the President of Geb. If you are convicted, you will be executed. Do you not wish to defend yourself? The first step is telling me your name and where you live.”

He stared at me for a few minutes. I don’t know if he thought the staring would make me break or if he couldn’t think of anything else to do. Eventually, he sighed and left the room without another word.

Twenty minutes later, a roly-poly man entered and introduced himself.

“Hi, I’m Stan,” he said, extending his hand. “Your lawyer.”

I stared at his hand and didn’t move.

“Yeah, right.” He sat down and fished a notebook and pen out of his briefcase and set them on the table in front of me. “You don’t talk. Just so you know, they can’t legally record our conversations, but I would understand if you don’t trust them. You can write on that if you want. I don’t need you to respond, but I am obligated to tell you what’s happening with your case. The New Jerusalem District Attorney has charged you, unknown person number one, with the murder of President Theodore Munin. They have your fingerprints and DNA on the murder weapon, and they have a surveillance stream of you exiting the President’s bedroom suite covered in blood the night of the murder. They’re not charging you for any other terrorist incidents right now, but that might change. This case obviously has some media attention, and they’re trying to work through several issues relating to that and the trial right now. Your silence won’t help your case, but, in all honestly, after seeing the evidence, I don’t think talking will do any good, either. If you’re thinking of some sort of insanity defense, let me first say, bravo, you have me convinced, but that’s not my specialty. You’ll need to get yourself another lawyer. As it stands, unless something changes between now and the trial, you will be quickly convicted and sentenced to death. I say this not as your advocate but as someone morally and legally bound to tell you the full, unvarnished truth.”

He closed the briefcase in a workmanlike manner, stood up, and walked out of the room without another look in my direction.

I took the notebook back to my cell and began to write.




I did nothing but write for the next week.

I settled into a routine of writing, eating, and fake-praying to maintain the illusion of piety for those who could see into my cell.

When next they pulled me out and sat me down in the interrogation room, I was across the table from an elderly, white-haired gentleman in black-and-white religious robes who introduced himself as the High Priest of New Jerusalem, Yoseph Bakr.

After studying me for a few moments, he asked quietly, “are you him?”

I had not spoken since my arrival, but I’d only been confronted by legal authorities. This was the first religious authority to ask me a question. Could I reasonably remain silent? Could I credibly speak? My image was predicated on the appearance of holiness. I had some religious knowledge, but if I said too much, there was a chance he could see right through me.

“If I am not worthy of this audience, Your Grace, forgive me. I come only seeking wisdom. Having dedicated my life to you and God, I hope you can understand how jarring it is to hear you say I have been wrong that entire time.”

I understood, but only in an abstract sense. I’d never believed in anything as deeply or for as long as Yoseph. But I had read a little history and knew changing a belief system shared by tens of millions of people was not easy. If it were, change would happen faster and more often.

“There are thousands of people outside this building right now. Praying. Hoping. Waiting to hear from you. But others say you are a false prophet, an agent of the unbelievers, here to lead us astray.”

“What do you say?” I whispered and saw him jump at the sound of my voice.

“I do not know. That is why I am here. You say so many things in the holy book and in your sermons that contradict what you are saying now. I’ve memorized the book and your sermons. If you are who you say, then how can I explain the contradiction? Am I supposed to forget things you’ve said in the past?”

I didn’t want to have this debate. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of everything Augur had ever said. I did not. So, I decided the wisest policy would be to answer a question with a question.

“Is God capable of mistake?”

“No, he is perfect. Only humans are capable of mistake.” He looked up at the ceiling for a moment before continuing. “Which means my analysis must be mistaken. Where have I erred, Your Grace? What are the flaws in my reasoning?”

“Is truth immutable?” I spoke so low I wasn’t sure he could hear me, but I saw comprehension on his face. He leaned back in his chair and thought.

“God is the immutable truth. But he reveals this truth to humans in stages. The Prosledite religion is but the latest incarnation of God’s revelations throughout the ages. He spoke directly to Adam and Eve until they turned their back on him. Then he spoke through Moses and Jesus and Muhammad before deciding to use you as his vessel. To you, he revealed things he had never revealed before. You contradicted what was written before…Your Grace? Are your words today the latest in a long line of God’s revelations?”

I’d gone as far as I dared, verbally, but I wanted to see if I could push him a little farther so, purely for my amusement, I hopped off the chair, took a step away from the table, and lifted my right hand above my shoulder, palm down.

An awkward split second later, he was on his knees, kissing the back of my hand. I felt my head physically swell. Sekmet would have enjoyed the moment and would also have enjoyed knocking me down a few pegs when we got home. Trying mightily to suppress a smile, I ripped my hand away and hopped back up onto my chair.

Yoseph rose and bowed in my direction. “I am your humble servant.”

No one came to get me after he left, and in short order, my attorney stepped into the room.

“Hi. Real quick, are you still not talking?” After a half-second of silence, he continued. “Cool. So, I’m legally obligated to tell you things are moving pretty quickly now with your trial. It will begin one week from today. Aside from the streams you recorded, they have no physical evidence tying you to any terrorist attacks, so you won’t be charged with those. But they have arrested one of your associates, and he will be charged. If he flips on you, more charges will be added, but in the end, they won’t make much difference.”

My stomach tied itself in knots. Who had they arrested? Someone from one of the twins’ cells? Someone from another city? Maahes? It couldn’t be Maahes.

It could not be Maahes.

He was my ticket out.

“Your trial won’t take long, maybe a day, especially if you don’t plan to mount a defense. Not that it matters, you’d still be guilty even if you did. But let me know, one way or the other if you feel like talking. Okay?”

He did an about-face without waiting for an answer and walked out the door.




I had no other visitors until the day before the trial.

Yoseph asked me for another audience four times during that span. I don’t know why he asked – he didn’t ask to see me the first time – but I said no. I thought we’d left each other in a good place.

I kept up with my routines and found writing soothed my nerves, which became more frayed as the days passed.

I was in this situation of my own volition. Sekmet and I had chosen this course of action. We had planned it, rehearsed it, and I had still decided to go through with it after her murder. I trusted Maahes but could never trust him as wholly as I trusted my wife.

I had assumed, the next time they took me out of my cell, that my attorney would be waiting for me in the interrogation room. I was shocked when they opened the door and Ingrid Brown — Luna — was sitting at the table.

It took me a second to recognize her. Some people look better in person than they do in VR, but she was not one of them. Whatever makeup artist worked with her was a genius. In person, Ingrid had pockmarked skin and wild, frizzy hair. Her dark eyes settled on me as the officer led me to my seat, but she said nothing until he departed.

“Finally, we meet in person.” She made a mark in the notebook in front of her and set the pen down. “I’m told you’re not speaking. That is probably because you’re worried about them streaming the audio in here.”

She reached into her bag, pulled out a small cube-shaped device, and put it on the table in front of her.

“This little thing here,” she continued, “makes every microphone in the room stream white noise. A government friend of mine on Earth gave it to me. You can talk freely. They won’t hear you. And if you don’t believe me, I’m about to tell you some things about yourself they don’t know and will never know until after your trial.”

I plopped my elbow on the table and rested my chin on my hand. I couldn’t imagine what she had. Gabriel and Kyle and I had done well to cover my tracks.

She surprised the hell out of me.

“Daniel Lyon. Born, Winnipeg, Canada, Earth. Parents killed by Prosledite terrorists before their plane went down in Florida. Missing and presumed dead almost eighteen months ago after renting a boat to go fishing on Lake Manitoba.”

The game was up. She had everything. I didn’t even try to hide the utter shock and disbelief on my face.

“How did…”

“I’m a damn good reporter, that’s how. I began with the assumption you came from Earth since your demands included stopping the attacks there. Then I assumed you arrived on the last transport to dock before your attacks commenced. And I worked back from there to people discharged from the DF in the months before the Columbus left Ceres. Know how many dwarves are in that group of people?”

I shook my head.

“Two, believe it or not. And you are the only one to go missing without a body ever turning up. You must have friends in high places to have your DNA scrubbed from every database in the universe. Who are they?”

“What are you going to do, Luna?”

“I want your story. Right here, right now. You have no time. Tomorrow they’ll find you guilty, and the day after, they’ll execute you. You have to come clean today. I won’t publish anything until after you’re gone. You won’t have to see the stories or answer questions from anyone else. Come on, I think you chose me because deep down, you wanted me to find the truth. You said this would make my career, right? This is what you meant.”

A weird numb feeling engulfed me as she spoke. She didn’t have my life in her hands – Maahes did – but she did hold the key to our success or failure. I had to talk her out of going public.

When this thought first occurred to me, it seemed insane. How could I convince a reporter to kill a historic, career-breaking story? It was impossible.

And then, an instant later, I had the answer. She had already done it. And she would do it again, for the sake of all humanity.

“You won’t publish this story.”

She threw her head back and cackled. “Why not?”

“Because you have a history of spiking legitimate news stories, and I know deep down you’re a good person. If you choose to do this, you, personally, will be responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people on Earth and Geb.”


“Hundreds of years ago, people used to ask themselves whether they would kill Adolf Hitler if they could go back in time and had the opportunity. The answer was always yes because who in their right mind wouldn’t kill a monster in order to save millions of innocent people? You’d do it, right? Well, you have that same choice, right here, right now. And you don’t have to kill a soul.”

“What are you talking about? You’re the monster. You’re the mass murderer.”

“Luna, I am a God. A few days ago, the High Priest of New Jerusalem knelt on the floor right here and kissed my hand. I’ve asked the Prosledites for peace, and they’ll do it. I’m betting you won’t trade peace for a shot at advancing your career, a move which may backfire, by the way, once people figure out what you’ve done.”

“They believe you’re a God because you’ve lied to them. I have always published the truth, and it’s never backfired on me.”

“No, you haven’t always published the truth.”

“You are so full of shit!”

“Think back to one of our first conversations. You told me you couldn’t publish my story because you needed access here on Geb. You refused to publish what you knew was the truth because it furthered your career.”

“That’s different.”

“You’ve always cared about your career. Now you think you can take it one step further by telling only half of my story.”

“What do you mean, half?”

“The biggest part is yet to come, and it will change everything. Give it a chance. Wait until you’ve seen the final act. Luna, after they execute me, everything will change. It’s already starting. You have a chance to save lives on two worlds. The only question is, will you take it?”

I hopped off the chair and banged on the door.

“Are you clinically insane? Is that your defense? This is all a scam. None of it is real.”

“Reality is defined by action, Luna. See what actions people take once I’m gone, then make up your mind.” The officer opened the door, and I walked out.




As the officer led me back through the cellblock, I felt optimistic. Luna was intelligent and tough, and I thought there was a great chance she would see I was right, especially after a flock of starlings flew me out of Nicaea Square.

My thoughts had turned to what I would write in my journal that evening when I heard a screaming man crash into the glass on my left. I recoiled and bumped into the officer before turning to focus on the human form frothing in his cell.

It was Maahes.




I don’t remember much about the trial, except that it was mercifully quick.

Instead of being transported to the New Jerusalem Courthouse, where the important trials were held, they set up a makeshift courtroom on the third floor of the jail. My attorney explained the logistics of the decision, but I wasn’t listening.

I remained silent during the proceedings. The prosecution called their witnesses and played their streams, and even went through the motions of asking me questions on the stand, but I said nothing. Most of the time, it felt like I was floating above my body, watching the whole thing happening to someone else.

Maahes wouldn’t save me. The sand in the hourglass of my life was running out, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

The judge rendered a guilty verdict before dinner and sentenced me to death by hanging in Nicaea Square.

Just as I’d planned all those months before.

Back in my cell, I wrote until the wee hours of the morning. I didn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. It was my last night alive.

Few people get to know the time and place of their death. There were so many things I wanted to do, so many regrets, so many what-ifs, so many roads not taken that might have ended differently.

How many people had I killed? And what was it all for?

Toward the end, I tried not to think about it and focused on Sekmet, the one pure, joyful thing to come from my life.

I think I inadvertently dozed for an hour or so. When I woke, there were only two hours left before they came to take me away.

I used that time to pray.


Chapter Twenty


I know what you’re thinking: I can’t still be writing this if I was hanged in the middle of Nicaea Square. You’re right. I didn’t die.

But I was hanged.

Here’s what happened.

They took me out of my cell at the appointed hour. I left behind my notebook, filled with Sister Hillary’s wisdom.

The whole notebook thing was her idea. When the birds arrived from Earth, so did a tremendously long letter. Gabriel had explained my plan to her, and she took it upon herself to translate our clumsy, amateur streams into truly poetic religious language. Pages and pages of it. She wanted me to re-write it all — by hand — so I did. I memorized her words and regurgitated as many of them as I could onto those pages.

About a dozen officers paraded me through the prison and took me downstairs to a vehicle that looked like an armadillo from a Western VR game my friends and I used to play. It was probably nuke-proof. Why they felt the need to ferry me through a peaceful crowd of people in a thing like that, I’ll never know.

When I stepped out of the armadillo at Nicaea Square, the first thing I noticed was the weather. A storm was rolling in fast from the west. The clouds were low and dark and angry.

Beneath the clouds stood, conservatively, a hundred thousand people in a semi-circle in front of the gallows. The news streams I saw later said the crowd was double that size. They were utterly passive. No one rushed the platform when I emerged. There were no angry epithets or bared teeth. They simply stood and sweated in the Gebian humidity, waiting for the skies to open up. This sea of non-resistance was kept at bay by a battalion of rough-looking warriors, each well-armed and utterly unnecessary.

All of them — every single person in the square — were there for me. I wished Sekmet were alive to see it.

Only hours before, I had been wallowing in my own sorrow, thinking about all the things I could have done differently. But should I have any regrets? Had I not made an impact? The evidence was right in front of me. I would die, but they would believe. Peace might have a fighting chance. Maybe I never needed the birds. Maybe all I ever needed was to sacrifice myself.

I thought about the question I’d posed to Ingrid. What if it was my life instead of Hitler’s? Would I trade my life for the chance to save tens of thousands of others?

Would you?

At that moment, it was easy to answer the question in the affirmative. I wanted to justify my fate. And as a soldier – first for the DF and then for Gabriel – had I not already promised to risk my life for the kind of peace that seemed to be within my grasp?

But if you asked me today, I don’t know what my answer would be. The atheist in me, who is selfish and thinks there is nothing else out there, recoils at the protector in me, who would consider it an honor to die for others and is a bit more optimistic about the prospect of an afterlife.

The hangman didn’t give me a choice to stay or leave. But he did, after the traditional pomp and circumstance, ask if I had any last words.

I whispered one word, “Peace,” then prostrated myself in front of the gallows.

In short order, two hundred thousand people in front of me did the same.

Then it rained.

Tiny drops stung the back of my neck and hands. If I had been in control of the weather, I couldn’t have planned it any better.

The hangman pulled me to my feet as the deluge accelerated. He bound my wrists behind my back and wrapped the rope around my neck.

I closed my eyes. I was determined to die bravely, not to squirm or wriggle or kick. But as my feet lifted off the ground, I found myself unable to stop. My eyes opened involuntarily, and I saw the crowd still lying prostrate before me. The pressure on my throat was intense. So, too, was the pain. I tried to force my chin down between the rope and my neck, but it was no use. Darkness crept in around my eyes, and a few seconds later, there was nothing.




When I woke up, I was in the desert.

I recognized the spot. It was where I had buried Sekmet. The sky was still overcast, but it was no longer raining.

In a disoriented moment, I wondered if perhaps I had died and been transported to some sort of purgatory. And even though in the months since I’ve never answered that question to my satisfaction, I decided to proceed as if I was alive.

If some unknown person were still following the plan I’d laid out, there would be a car waiting just around the corner to take me to an out-of-the-way cabin Sekmet and I discovered as we researched where to live out the rest of our days.

I kissed the ground under which Sekmet was buried and started running. I switched to a fast walk when my throat began to burn, and a minute later, the car appeared, right where it was supposed to be.

But it didn’t take me to the cabin.

After a three-hour ride through an otherwise lifeless patch of desert, I arrived — to my great surprise — at a makeshift launching pad, atop which sat a small transport spacecraft with the name Gabriel Gomez emblazoned in gold letters on the side.

A man I’d never met before opened the car door when it came to a halt. “Welcome, Mr. Lyon,” he said in glorious English. “I’ve been expecting you.”




The birds saved me.

The stream of my hanging became – as I hoped it would – the most-watched and analyzed stream of all time. I couldn’t sit through the beginning, before the birds arrived. I was appalled at my reaction to death, especially after promising myself to be strong.

The birds arrived around the time I went limp.

Four Starlings fought through the rain and grabbed me by the back of the pants, raising me up and taking the pressure off my neck. Then four more appeared. One pair stabilized my shoulders while the other pair cut the rope binding my wrists. Finally, the last four swooped in and slipped the rope from under my neck before latching on to the front of my pants. All twelve then lifted me straight up into the clouds.

It looked for all the universe like Augur had, once more, ascended into heaven.

The soldiers were as awestruck as the spectators. They didn’t try to stop it. None of them attempted to shoot at the birds or me. Every single one of the hundred thousand people in attendance looked on silently, seemingly paralyzed with their mouths agape, as I disappeared.




The birds weren’t mine.

I didn’t recognize the model, and neither did any of the analysts who dissected the stream frame by frame. No one could say – conclusively – the birds were robotic.

And, quite frankly, neither could I.

Please don’t ask me who flew them, either, because I don’t know.

It wouldn’t surprise me to find out Gabriel, despite failing to respond directly to any of my messages, had been following me closely the whole time, concerned for my safety, but I don’t know that for a fact. I still haven’t spoken to him.

It would surprise me if this turned out to be an actual act of God, but not nearly as much as it would have surprised me a year ago.




Ingrid — Luna — sat on her story.

I would like to think my argument had something to do with it, but few people ever change their minds in response to a logical argument. Instead, after my hanging, I think she did the math and compared how many people would believe her fantastic tale to how many believed what they saw over and over and over again with their own two eyes.

Whatever the reason, she arrived at the right decision.

But I do expect her to show up at my door one day, asking for an interview.




Earth is at peace, and so is Geb.

Humans are never truly at peace, of course, but religiously-motivated attacks and murders stopped nine months ago. It’s the longest stretch since…well, no one’s really sure how long.

The High Priest of New Jerusalem will convene a religious council soon, on the first anniversary of my ‘ascension to heaven.’ Among the other items on a long, detailed agenda: they plan to discuss whether my — Sister Hillary’s — jailhouse notebook should be appended to or merged with the Heka. I think it’s a foregone conclusion, almost everyone on Geb has already read it. Some ambitious government bureaucrat decided to sell it to the public, and it’s sat atop the Gebian bestseller list every week for the last five months.

I don’t mind not making a dime, but I feel bad for Sister Hillary. She wrote it.




This story has taken the better part of a year to write. It’s proven to be much more difficult than simply parroting someone else’s words. As I finish these final sentences, I am six days away from seeing Earth outside my window for the first time in much, much too long. I’m so excited to start my third life I can barely sit still.

I want this one to be more permanent than the first two.

I’ve decided to live in New Zealand. The climate is warmer than Canada, and the people are just as lovely, or so I’ve heard.

I don’t know what I’ll do when I get there. Gabriel paid me so well I never need to work again, but I can’t do nothing for the rest of my life.

I need a purpose.

Maybe a Kiwi private detective is on the lookout for an expert bird flyer and bedroom snooper.

There must be Starlings there.