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War Without War, World Without End

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The Halfway House for Wayward Demons (And Angels) at the Covenstead was as full as ever; the trickle of defectors from what was left of Hell continued apace, and a choir one hundred angels strong had arrived shortly after Gabriel’s and Uriel’s defection. For once, every single angel had found their demonic counterpart, but that was mostly because there were more demons now on Earth and in Limbo than in Hell.

“How many demons are there all together, again?” Adam asked as Crowley walked among them with his pockets full of apples.

“Nine thouzzand, nine hundred, and ninety-nine, counting the Washed,” Beelzebub replied.

“Didn’t you say it was ten million, once?” Adam recalled aloud.

Gabriel cleared his throat and went slightly pink. “I, ah, might have been exaggerating a bit in order to impress the Enemy with the weakness of their position,” he admitted.

Adam smirked at him. “Really? Beelzebub returning the ‘exaggeration’ I can understand, but I thought angels weren’t supposed to lie.”

“We’re not,” Gabriel admitted, “but that kind of went out the window several thousand years ago. Power over truth, working for the greater good, ends before means. You know how it goes.”

Adam stared at him blankly. “No,” he said, without mirth. “I don’t. And I’m the Son of Satan.”

“He’zz right, you know,” Beelzebub said. “I may have been a sadist to my employees, but I wazz nevver in the habit of lying to them.” They glanced at Aziraphale and Abuataar, who were explaining how to use a neural interface to a demon covered in black and yellow scales. “I am given to understand that this has not generally been true, Above.”

Gabriel at least had the manners to look ashamed. “I’m starting to wonder if Michael and Metatron were scrupulously honest with me, either,” he mumbled.

“I’d be surprised if Michael ever directly said anything to us that was factually false,” Uriel mused. “I’d be shocked if she wasn’t lying by omission left and right, though.”

Over the last few decades, the central courtyard of the Covenstead had grown co-extensive with the park in the center of Limbo Village, as both Tadfield and Limbo had settled into the role of “home” for Adam. (As all the lifts were now out of order, there was little reason to return all the way to London.) The angels and demons of Adam’s peculiar choir might saunter into the park from the Limbo side by the pomegranate tree, and leave by the cafeteria on the Tadfield side. This arrangement had been particularly helpful for Dog, who had never quite gotten the hang of Limbo; the lack of smells seemed to confuse the poor infernal canine.

As Dog darted between former sergeants of Heaven and a pair of Hellish janitors, Crowley handed out his last apple and meandered back towards the tree that had donated them. He seemed to be having a silent debate with the pomegranate.

A lone human, more than half cyborg, waved as they headed towards the mess hall. “I do miss when the Coven outnumbered us,” Aziraphale mused, glancing back at the empty sanctuary.

“Well, there’s nothing to be done about it,” Adam sighed. “Once you go full ‘bot, you lose your witchcraft. Eternal life in a body that’s easily repaired by nanobots versus all the ills of the flesh and a bit of second-sight? It’s a wonder we have any left at all, really.”

“It’s the backwards of the original bargain, is what is is,” Crowley griped.

“I suppose it’s in the nature of Her plan that once the humans found out how to take the fruit of the Tree of Life by artificial means, they would lose some of the benefits of the Tree of Knowledge,” Gabriel stated, as if it were a foregone conclusion. He plucked the apple Crowley sent speeding towards his head from the air as if it were a feather.

Adam nodded towards the trees. “Everything okay there?” he asked Crowley.

“You seem vexed,” Uriel added.

Crowley waved at the park. “The trees want to be somewhere else,” he said. “I’ve told them they’ll sit where they are and like it, but they’re grumpy and restless.”

“Somewhere other than the courtyard?” Uriel asked, no more enlightened than before.

“No,” Crowley grumbled, “just - not where they are now. A few yards to the left or right. No idea why.”

Adam peered into the thick green leafiness of the park while Dog chased a lost goose around the quad. “Making room for something else?” he asked vaguely.

“It’s the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge, or at least their modern representations,” Aziraphale argued. “What else could possibly go there?”

“Dunno,” Adam said. “Just a feeling, I guess.”

Beelzebub reached over and separated the hissing fowl and the growling fiend; whether they were rescuing the goose from Dog, or the hellhound from the goose, was unclear. “The stairway to Heavven, perhaps?” they asked.

Adam shook his head and scratched Dog behind the ears. “Maybe,” he said, “but that’d be a weird thing to have in the garden.”

“I’ll give the ungrateful wretches another talking-to,” Crowley promised. Aziraphale winced.

---

Adam walked into the most technologically advanced hospital in Cairo, flanked by Alpha and Ba’al. It was also, from a purely technical perspective, the only functioning hospital, at least in the usual sense of the word, left in the world, but that was purely a matter of chance. The last half-century had seen the number of medical facilities dwindle down year by year, as demand subsided; this just happened to be the last.

The robots staffing the place didn’t give them a second look. It was unclear whether they’d even given them a first one.

Marching through the hallways, Adam homed in on one pair of clinic doors, throwing them open partly for drama’s sake and partly so both Titans could step through at once.

Reclining on a plastiform table that conformed precisely to her shape, the second-to-last human met his eyes and smiled. “It’s you,” she whispered. “I was afraid you were a myth.”

“Well, I am,” Adam admitted, “but that doesn’t mean anything about whether or not I’m real.”

“Have you come to talk me out of this?” she asked, dropping her eyes. A shock of curly grey hair fell across her face.

Adam’s eyes widened. “No, of course not,” he answered. “I have no reason to want you to be in pain any longer.”

She sighed and let her head fall back. “Thank you,” she whispered. “I tried, I really did. I felt - I still feel - that there’s something important about flesh and blood, but I can’t do this anymore.” Her hands fluttered in her lap. “Am - am I -?”

“We’re the last ones, yes.” Adam smiled and held out a hand. She threaded her fingers through his, her knuckles standing out against dark skin beginning to thin and pucker with age.

Ba’al smiled down at her. “May we ask your name?” they said.

“Eva Huang,” she answered. “I know, I don’t look like a Huang, everyone tells me that.” In fact, she looked like the entire globe rolled into one person; traces of every continent rustled in her hair and danced in the corners of her eyes.

“Of course, we end as we began,” Alpha mused. “With an Eve and an Adam.”

The robot next to the table looked more like an entire operating suite than a doctor. He was, in fact, both. “We’re ready to begin, Ms. Huang,” he said, ignoring the two Titans and the living demigod standing mere meters away.

She let go of Adam’s hand and closed her eyes. “Will it hurt?” she asked.

“You will feel some discomfort as the nanobots read your nervous system,” the doctor said, not unkindly. “For me, it felt more like a static shock than pain. I have been told that the procedure has improved since then, but everyone’s experience is a little bit different. Would you like for me to administer a sedative?”

“No,” she answered uneasily. “I don’t want them to miss something important because I was asleep.” She sighed. “Let’s get this over with.” She smiled weakly at Adam and mouthed, “thank you”.

The doctor beeped. The swarm of nanobots that read every piece of data that made up Eva were already ready, of course; they raced down every neuron, taking each molecule apart and recording its exact state down to the quantum level. The process was nearly instantaneous, and nearly painless.

Adam looked across the table at Death, who stared back at him, one bony hand on Eva’s shoulder. The body on the table stopped breathing.

A glittering mote of light rose from Eva’s chest, hesitated in midair, and melded into Adam’s aura. He shuddered.

Another robot, on the other side of the doctor, sat up. “It’s too bad,” Eva said, as a sparkling blue light raced across her new body of plastic and tungsten, “that the process has to take the old body apart like that.”

“Unfortunately, any process that reads your neural pattern closely enough to replicate it has to disassemble it, at least as long as it’s still wetware,” the doctor agreed. “But now you can be backed up as often as you like.”

Eva looked at her new hands. Her robotic body was still quite humanoid; she hadn’t wanted to venture too far from the original template. “But there can only be one copy of me active at once, is that right?”

“So far, yes.” The doctor beeped again; a silver stream of nanobots chased across Eva’s skin and back into their home in his chassis. “We don’t know why, yet. The current theory involves quantum pattern superimposition.”

“Or it could be that no matter how many copies of your mind you have, you still only have one soul,” Eva suggested. Her eyes tracked across the room, looking through Adam and the Titans as if they weren’t there.

“When I was much younger, I would have tried to talk you out of that idea,” said the doctor. “I still don’t think it’s right, but I must admit I don’t have a better hypothesis.”

Ba’al gestured at Eva’s new body. “She knows where we were just seconds ago,” they said. “Can she not see us at all?”

THE NEW SOULS DO NOT MATCH PROPERLY WITH OURS, Death said. THE FREQUENCIES ARE WRONG, I THINK. He bowed from the waist, his robes whirling. UNTIL WE HAVE A REASON TO MEET AGAIN, THEN. His wings fluttered, and he was gone.

“We really wish we knew how he did that,” Ba’al muttered.

Adam watched Eva testing her new legs. “She’s out of pain, now,” he said quietly. “And I’m done. Let’s go.”

Alpha tried to explain to Ba’al as they retraced their steps. “We know that the old souls were meant to interface with a corporation of organic matter,” they said. “As they replaced more and more of their bodies with cyberware, the humans began developing a sort of meta-soul to interface with metal and circuitry. When they made the leap to fully cybertronic bodies, they lost their old souls - nothing for them to hold on to - but the meta-soul-stuff took over the job.”

Ba’al shifted uncomfortably as they squeezed through the main doors again. “And what will happen to the new souls when they die?” they asked.

“So far, they’ve all been reincarnated from backups,” Adam replied as they pushed through the front door and started down the front steps of the hospital. “No guarantee that’ll always happen, but with a little luck, they don’t have to go anywhere.”

Ba’al’s voice shifted towards Gabriel’s. “That makes us uncomfortable.”

“We don’t have to like it,” Alpha replied. “Our duty is to protect them, regardless.”

A delivery robot rolled to an abrupt stop in front of Adam. Like the doctor, it had been designed for function, not aesthetics; it looked like three intersecting wheels around a set of drone rotors, with four spindly arms folded around a rather battered cardboard box. “Excuse me,” it announced, “are you Adam Young?”

Adam paused on the next-to-last step. “Yes?” he said.

“Package for you,” it said. It set the box on the last of the hospital stairs and produced a datapad from its innards. “Sign here, please.”

Adam took the datapad. A fuzzy scan of a physical piece of paper took up the top half of the screen; it listed three items, none of them legible. A faintly familiar scrawl decorated the bottom of the page. Adam glanced up at Alpha, then traced his finger across the bottom half of the screen and handed the datapad back.

“Lovely day to you,” the delivery robot said, and rolled off.

Alpha looked down. “Oh,” they said, recognizing Aziraphale’s signature, pixillated though it had been. “Well.”

“No, it makes sense.” Adam sat down on the last step and snapped his fingers; a pocketknife fell into his hand. “I should have guessed when he showed up personally. The other three are just projections of the deepest fears of humanity, so they’re part of me now, right?” He slit the half-crumbling tape across the top of the box. “Haven’t seen these in forever.”

“In seven hundred and seventy-seven years, almost to the day,” Alpha replied as Adam took out a sword, a pair of scales, and a crown so heavily tarnished it almost flaked apart when he picked it up.

“You’re kidding,” Ba’al said.

“Nope.” Adam flicked the crown around in his hands; the rust fell away, leaving a very shiny and slightly dented coronet behind. “Been that long for you, too.”

“Well, yes,” Ba’al said. “We didn’t exactly get to see the Horsepeople in action, though.”

“Yeah, honestly, except for Death they weren’t that tough,” Adam said, handing Alpha the sword. “Here, you might as well take this back; you’re the only one who really knows how to use it.”

Alpha accepted it hilt-first; the blade burst into flames almost as soon as Adam pulled his hand back.

Ba’al’s voice slid into Gabriel’s again. “You’re kidding.”

“Had you not figured out yet where it went?” Alpha sighed.

“We thought you lost it in Eden somewhere!” Ba’al shouted. “We thought it was at least safe! It’s been out here the whole time?” One of Ba’al hands slid up and back down the face that bore Beelzebub’s likeness.

“Nothing we can do about it now,” Alpha shushed them. “What are we going to do with the crown and the scales?”

“I’ll figure something out,” Adam said, flattening the box and stuffing it in the nearest bin. He tucked the remaining two emblems of the apocalypse into his jacket. “Let’s go home.”

He turned down an alley, as an unseasonal fogbank appeared in the middle of summer-bright Cairo. When they stepped out of the fog, they were between two of the cottages in Limbo Village. Another couple of blocks, and they were strolling through the woods along the northern edge of Greater Tadfield.

“Hey,” Atelerix said, waving them over to the Covenstead’s gate. “We, um, apparently we have to sign for something? They’ve been asking for you. They got here about five minutes ago.”

“Who have?” Adam asked, setting the crown and scales down on the bench under the pomegranate.

“Them.” Atelerix pointed at a row of delivery robots lined up down Tadfield’s main road. The first one looked relatively humanoid, except for a pair of jet wings on each ankle and pair of rotors on its helmet.

“Are you Adam Young?” asked the delivery bot.

“I have a feeling I’m going to be answering that question a lot,” Adam grumbled. “Yes, yes I am. Who’s asking?”

“Olympus Delivery Service,” said the bot, setting down a wooden crate. “Please sign here.”

Boxes arrived from Bifrost Logistics, from Mount Zephon Storage, from dozens of messengers. By the time Adam had signed for all of them, his hand was too cramped to start opening them; he handed the penknife to Legion.

The first box held a helmet, a pair of winged sandals, a shield decorated with an embossed gorgon’s head, two sets of bows and arrows, and an ivy-twined staff with a pine cone on top. “What on Earth?” Legion asked, holding up the shield.

Adam looked at the winged sandals, then barked with laughter. “I guess the Horsepeople weren’t the only myth waiting to happen again,” he said.

Alpha hefted the thyrsus. A wreath of grapevine dangled from the pinecone; they lifted it off and settled it gently over their halo. “This feels familiar, somehow,” they murmured.

Ba’al lifted a javelin in the shape of a lightning bolt from the Mount Zephon box. “But these - they can’t be real,” they said. “We know there’s only one God. Why are these here?”

“The Horsepeople were real, and humans made them up, too,” Adam argued. “Why not the rest of the gods?”

“But the Horsepeople are based on things humans actually experienced,” Atelerix said, joining the argument. “What would these be based on?”

Alpha’s hands trembled as they raised their staff. “Us,” they breathed. “It’s us.”

“That’s blasphemous,” Ba’al argued.

Urartu Alboran picked up a cornucopia from an unmarked box. “There’s a fish in this,” they murmured.

“Is it?” Alpha asked. “We made the world, Ba’al. We sang it into being. What if it remembers? What if the humans could hear the echoes of us in the world?”

“We did,” Adam said, closing his eyes and drawing up memories that were and were not his own. “You’re a part of this world, the Titans are; you’re it’s Powers and Principalities, right? Your personalities shaped everything. You just couldn’t remember it while you were split. But your song was still out there, out here. The echoes of it were in everything you made, especially when it was new.”

Urartu shivered, then glitched, and fell apart into their components. Dagon screamed, “False god, my ass!” and shoved Uriel so hard they both fell over, spilling fruit and dried sardines from the horn of plenty everywhere.

Alpha dug around in the box the cornucopia had come from and removed a tiara adorned with starry rays. “Everyone’s ass, it seems,” they murmured. They shifted the wreath of grapevine to the head that resembled Aziraphale’s, and settled the star-crown on the one that resembled Crowley’s. “Ashtoreth, indeed.”

“Our collective ass, azz it were,” Ba’al agreed. Apparently an internal argument had been won.

The other Titans plucked an astonishing assortment of things from the boxes, including a startlingly large number of torches, spindles, and hammers. The unmatched angels and demons milled around, trying to catch a glimpse of the divine tools that might belong to them once they’d found their other halves.

Adam handed the winged sandals to Legion. “I think those are yours,” he said. “Or they will be.”

“If I ever find my better half,” Legion grumbled. He folded the penkife and handed it back to Adam.

Adam nodded. “I don’t see much reason to wait, now,” he mused. “It may be just about time to force Papa’s and Aunt Michael’s hands.”