Captain Merlin Athrawes' Quarters,


Archbishop's Palace,


and Royal Palace,


City of Tellesberg,


Kingdom of Charis


June 12, Year of God 143


Tellesberg Enclave




            "To whoever reads this journal, greetings in the name of the true God.


            "My name is Jeremiah Knowles, and I am an 'Adam.' I first opened my eyes on Safehold on the morning of Creation, and my mind and my soul were new-made, as clear and clean as the world about me. I looked upon the work of the Archangels and of God, and my heart was filled with joy and reverence.


            "Like my fellow Adams and Eves, I met the Archangels. I saw the Blessed Langhorne, and the Holy Bédard. And I knew Shan-wei, the Bright One Who Fell.


            "There are many others who have seen the Archangels I have seen, heard and read the Holy Writ I have heard and read. Many of us have lived out even the span of an Adam or an Eve and passed from this world, yet even now, there are hundreds of thousands — possibly millions — of us, still living in this one hundred and forty-third year since the Creation. But of every one of those souls here in Tellesberg, I alone, and my three companions — Evelyn Knowles, my wife, Kayleb Sarmac, Evelyn's brother, and Jennifer Sarmac, Kayleb's wife — have known what none of those others have known.


            "We know that the 'Holy Writ' is a lie . . . and that there are no 'Archangels.'"


            The being known as Merlin Athrawes sat in the unlit blackness of his quarters in Tellesberg Palace, his eyes closed, looking at the pages stored in his mollycirc brain, and tried to take it all in.


            It was hard. Indeed, in many ways it was harder for him to absorb this than it had been for Nimue Alban to learn she'd been dead for over eight centuries. Of all the things he might have discovered, this was the one which would never have occurred to him.


            He opened his eyes, using his light-gathering optics to gaze through the daylight-bright darkness and out his sleeping chamber's window at the slumbering city of Tellesberg. There'd been no time for him to read the incredible documentary treasure Maikel Staynair and Zhon Byrkyt had shown him at Saint Zherneau's. But there'd been time for him to examine every page of the manuscript journal, and he was a PICA. He had what truly was a "photographic memory," and he had pored over the stored imagery for over six hours now while all around him the rest of Tellesberg Palace and the capital of the Ahrmahks lay wrapped in the sleep he no longer needed.


            "Owl," he said quietly, activating his built-in com.


            "Yes, Lieutenant Commander," a silent voice said somewhere deep inside him as Owl, the Ordonez-Westinghouse-Lytton tactical computer in the hidden chamber where Nimue had awakened, replied, bouncing his signal off the carefully stealthed SNARC high above the body of water known as The Cauldron.


            "Have you completed that data search?"


            "Yes, Lieutenant Commander."


            "Did you find the specified names?"


            "I did, Lieutenant Commander. There are, however, data anomalies."


            "Data anomalies?" Merlin sat straighter, eyes narrowing. "Specify data anomalies."


            "Yes, Lieutenant Commander. The names you directed me to search for appear in both the Colony Administration's official roster of colonists, a copy of which was filed in my memory by Commodore Pei, and in the roster of colonists filed in my memory by Dr. Pei Shan-wei. They are not, however, assigned to the same population enclaves in both rosters."


            "They aren't?" Merlin frowned.


            "That is correct, Lieutenant Commander," Owl replied. A more capable AI would have explained the "data anomalies" in greater detail. Owl, on the other hand, clearly felt no need to do so.


            "Where were they assigned?" Merlin asked, reminding himself rather firmly — again — that Owl's version of self-awareness was still . . . limited. The manual promised him that eventually the AI's heuristic programming would bring Owl to a fuller state of awareness. That he would began recognizing rhetorical questions, responding without being specifically cued, and even start providing necessary explanations or potentially significant unexpected correlations of data search results without being specifically instructed to do so.


            In Merlin's considered opinion, "eventually" couldn't possibly come too soon.


            "According to Administrator Langhorne's official roster, Jeremiah Knowles, known as 'Jere Knowles,' his wife, his brother-in-law, and his sister-in-law were assigned to the Tellesberg enclave. According to Dr. Pei's roster, all four of them were assigned to the Alexandria enclave."


            Merlin blinked. He'd never thought to check Shan-wei's notes on the original placement of colonists against the official record, never suspected there might be discrepancies between them. Now, however, he wondered why the possibility hadn't occurred to him.


            Because the Commodore didn't say anything about it to you in his downloads, that's why, he thought.


            "Are there additional 'data anomalies' between the two rosters?" he asked Owl. "Additional cases in which colonists appear assigned to more than one enclave?"


            "Unknown, Lieutenant Commander," Owl said calmly, with the total lack of curiosity Merlin found maddening.


            "Well," he said with what a human being would have recognized as dangerous patience, "find out if any such additional anomalies exist. Now, Owl."


            "Yes, Lieutenant Commander."


            The AI's tone was completely devoid of any suggestion that it had recognized Merlin's impatience. Which, of course, only made it even more maddening, Merlin reflected.


            But whatever his shortcomings in terms of personality might be, Owl was a very fast worker. His analysis of the two rosters took less than two minutes, despite the millions of names in each of them.


            "There are additional anomalies, Lieutenant Commander," he informed Merlin.


            "Well," Merlin said twenty seconds later, "what sort of additional anomalies did you discover? And how many of them are there?"


            "All of the anomalies discovered fall into the same category as those already known, Lieutenant Commander. They consist of colonists who appear to have been assigned to multiple enclaves. In all cases, the enclave listed in Dr. Pei's roster is Alexandria. In Administrator Langhorne's roster, they are assigned to several different enclaves. I have detected a total of two hundred and twelve such anomalies."


            "I see," Merlin said slowly, his frustration with the AI's lack of spontaneity and initiative fading as he contemplated the numbers.


            I know what she was up to, he thought, and his mental tone was almost awed. My God, she was creating a second string for her bow, and she didn't even tell the Commodore. That's the only possible reason he wouldn't have told me about it in his message. He frowned. Was this something she'd intended to do all along, or did it only occurr to her after they'd officially separated because of their supposed disagreement? And how did she manage to doctor the records without Langhorne and Bédard realizing what she'd done?


            There was no way for anyone to know the answers to any of those questions at this distant remove. But if Merlin didn't know how Pei Shan-wei had done it, he did know what she'd attempted.


            He flipped ahead through the recorded pages of Jeremiah Knowles' journal to the passage he wanted.


            " . . . no more idea of the truth, then, than any of our fellow Adam and Eves. None of us were aware of the mental programming Bédard had carried out at Langhorne's orders. But when Dr. Pei realized what Langhorne had done, she took measures of her own. There was no way for her or any member of her staff in the Alexandria enclave to restore the memories of our past lives which had been taken from us. But, unknown to Langhorne and Bédard, she had secretly retained three NEATs. With them, she was able to reeducate a handful of the original colonists. We were among them."


            Merlin nodded to himself. Of course that was what she'd done. It had been risky just to retain the Neural Education and Training machines, no doubt, given Langhorne's plans and willingness to crush any opposition, and actually using them on the colonists would have been even more dangerous. But it couldn't have been any riskier than her open refusal to destroy the records of the truth stored in Alexandria. Unfortunately, neither had been enough.


            I can't believe this has all been just sitting here for over seven hundred local years, he thought. I wonder if any of her other "sleepers" survived Alexandria's destruction? And if they did, did they leave a record like 'Saint Zherneau's,' or did they simply dive as deep into their cover identities as they could? And how in hell did this journal of his manage to survive when the Brethren finally found it?


            He had no idea how to answer any of those questions, either . . . but he rather suspected that he knew someone who did.