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Twilight of the Mind (Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri Book III of III)

Michael Ely

42 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0671040790 / ISBN 13: 9780671040796
Published by Pocket Books, 2002
Condition: Very Good+ Soft cover
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About this Item

Paperback original. Light edge wear with light abrasions along the spine edges and a couple of light corner creases on the front cover. A previous owner has also written "B GM Pes" on the bottom of the first page in small lettering. Bookseller Inventory # 003767

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Twilight of the Mind (Sid Meier's Alpha ...

Publisher: Pocket Books

Publication Date: 2002

Binding: Mass Market Paperback

Book Condition:Very Good+

Edition: 1st Printing

About this title


In the conclusion of the trilogy based on the popular computer game, set a century after the events of Dragon Sun, civilization braces itself for a final reckoning between the fanatical Believers of Sister Miriam and the technological power of Prokhor Zahkarov that could destroy the planet Chiron. Original. (Science Fiction & Fantasy)

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

Two suns.

Miriam stood on a hilltop, the hot red sand staining the hem of her white robes. A heavy cowl covered her head, and the very sand seemed to thrash around her, kicking high in the grip of random gusts of wind, stinging her face and eyes.

Two suns. They both hung in a sky that seemed heated from pale blue to an almost white heat, Centauri A burning like Sol in the desert, Centauri B hanging below that, an angry orange haze of light.

And beneath those suns, the low buzz, a hum that seemed woven into the fabric of the world.

Another cloud of red dust kicked up and she turned away, blinking. Behind her four of her Templars stood, the Holy knights who were assigned to guard her and the church that was an extension of her faith, uncomplaining in their heavy white and red armor.

"Kola." She nodded to her head Templar, who walked over to her. He was a stocky man, also dressed in red and white armor, a flaming sword emblazoned beneath the silver cross on his chest. "How long will it be, now?"

"Seven days," he said. "Then it will be perihelion, when Centauri B is at its closest point to this world."

"So it's going to get hotter?"

He smiled, since the temperature had been rising steadily for several years. "A little. But we've been through this before."

"Something feels different this time." She turned and walked back toward the edge of the high, sandy hill, feeling the heat beating her back.

"The Almighty is testing us, for sure," said Kola. "Little food left, and a thousand more seekers come every day."

"We have our faith," said Miriam, but something shook inside of her. Her faith, the prayer that sustained her every day, seemed distant, like a small animal that had crawled away before the blazing eyes of the two suns.

She reached the edge of the hill. New Jerusalem lay at the foot of the hill below them, a jumble of metal buildings crowding narrow streets, the weak flickering of a stolen tach field surrounding it. In the center rose the church, her pride and joy, and she let her eyes rest on it for a moment. Made of synthmetal and crafted stone, it towered above the base, with clean, sweeping lines. The stained synthglass windows gleamed like jewels, lit from within, and the flying buttresses curved like wings around the high towers.

Then she looked around the periphery of the base, outside the tach field. Hundreds of tents spotted the sand, and thousands more people, many in plain brown robes, sat in the red sand or walked in prayer circles or huddled under tents, sheltering themselves from the burning sky. The sound of hymns drifted up to her even at this height.

"Something's going to break," she said. "It will be in the settlements, or in the world itself." She glanced back at the suns, which burned down onto a body that had become thin and stiff with time. "Let's go back down to the city."


They approached the gate to New Jerusalem. As they came down from the slopes and to the wide valley that held the base, Miriam could see groups of people, ragged and hungry, gathered outside of the tach field. They clustered around stained bubbletents and huddled into simple robes as the desert night began to cool, the day's heat escaping into the sky. As Miriam passed eyes turned to follow her, and voices whispered back and forth in the darkness.

"Is there enough food for these?"

Kola nodded once. "We're holding out. Didn't the Earth Jesus feed the masses with one loaf of bread?" He glanced at her, but she didn't answer.

Several among the huddled groups craned their necks, trying to get a better look at her. She could see fat, fleshy men and women who were clearly Morganites, and even the simple robes they wore for their pilgrimage looked somehow extravagant, as if the tiny tears in the cloth had been placed by a master tailor. She could see tall, brittle-looking University citizens, and legions of drones from who knew which base. Even a few Gaians, their tan bodies shifting beneath their dull brown robes, like butterflies ready to burst forth from their woven shells.

Miriam lifted one thin hand to them, and more of the pilgrims hopped to their feet. Scattered cheers broke out and a few people started in her direction.

"Let's go inside," said Miriam. "Make sure these get fed."

Two Templars came forward from the gate in thick white and red armor, fingering their weapons quietly. One discreetly turned her head and spoke through a tiny voicelink, and then the tachyon field deactivated between two metal posts. Miriam passed through, and the tachyon field flickered back into existence.

The streets of New Jerusalem were paved with stones, the low-slung metal buildings set close. Thin metal lampposts lined the streets, too far apart to give an even wash of light, so that shadows crept into the streets and collected on the sides of buildings. Dark figures sat along the streets, hugging the shadows, and the whispering of the New Lord's Prayer slipped back and forth among the hunched figures.

As Miriam and the Templars neared the center of the base, two priests approached. The moment they saw Miriam they fell to their knees, supplicating themselves before her. She gripped their hot fingers and enjoyed the connection for a moment.

Behind them the church rose, its tall spires piercing the sky. Miriam looked up and the sight lifted her, as it always did, and then the great metal doors swung open. The booming sound of the New Lord's Prayer, chanted by a thousand deep voices, struck her like hammer blows from inside, followed by a hymn that lifted her spirit up to Heaven.

On a range of gray stone mountains, on the eastern edges of the core settlements, a cluster of metal towers topped with smooth golden domes dotted the sides of craggy slopes. The domes were not for aesthetics, but for function; in each one resided sensitive monitoring equipment, the eyes of the University, watching sea and sky and stars. This was University Base, the crown jewel of Prokhor Zakharov's University faction, with its observatories and labs, its centers of culture and wide streets bathed in cool mountain air.

And as night fell across the base, Zakharov himself paced the observation deck located outside of the vast Starscope that protruded from the tallest dome. He could hear the servo motors hum as the scope turned this way and that at precise intervals, driven by the astronomers on the observatory floor inside.

There was a tiny flash far in the sky and an orange streak, followed by several more, like falling fireworks in the distance to the east. He stopped and watched them, then took a sip of Planet brandy from the glass in his hand. His fingers were tight on the glass, the only visible sign of his nervousness.

There was a clattering as heavy footsteps came up the metal stairs and onto the mesh surface of the deck. No need to turn around...the heavy breathing gave the man away. "Watching the drop troops, are you?" said a low, gravelly voice, the words coming at a pace that was just slow enough to be soothing.

Zakharov turned around. "Yes, Isaac."

"You've got the base in quite a stir." Isaac walked over to a pair of metal chairs and sank into one. "Would you tell me why?"

Zakharov took another sip of the Planet brandy, waiting for the warm liquid to soothe his jangled nerves. Unfortunately, as his life had extended indefinitely, his reactions to stimuli had slowly died, such that he only felt the most extreme pleasures and pains now. It would take three more of these brandies to stoke even the smallest fire in his belly. "Something's been stolen, and we need to get it back."

"Stolen?" Isaac shifted in his chair, changing the quality of shadow around him. "I thought you were searching for a person." Zakharov looked at him, and Isaac smiled. "I still hear things. You may have demoted me to your library project, but I have ears."

"You weren't demoted."

The Star Scope turned, moonlight glinting off its great metal carapace. Below his feet, in the heart of the base, Zakharov's systems hummed, knowledge building on knowledge, the true mind of Chiron. "You're right," Zakharov continued. "It's a person we seek. He vanished from a secret lab in Academy Park, and we lost him there. I have reason to believe that he may try to go to New Jerusalem."

"Oh? A top scientist, joining the lost and estranged that head for the Holy lands?" Isaac thought for a moment, his breath idling softly. "That's odd. Did he take something important?"

"Not exactly."

"Then what?" Isaac produced a translucent flask from somewhere and took a sip of the pale glowing drink inside. He closed his eyes and smiled, the smile lingering on puffy lips. "You might as well tell me. It will go into the historical record, you know. Besides, you look wrung out. Unburden yourself, Academician."

Zakharov tipped back his head and let the rest of the brandy sluice into his throat. He blinked as the stars quivered for a moment. "All right, Isaac. Come with me."

Zakharov led Isaac down through a series of security checkpoints, and finally to a lab complex with pale gray walls and a deep blue floor covering. A few strategically placed potted plants and some framed holo-art on the walls gave the area a kind of hushed, homey feel, like a freshly cleaned room.

Isaac had produced a white handkerchief and wiped his heavy brow, which was damp with sweat. Zakharov remembered that he was born during a time when genetic tweaking was still more art than science; his brain was powerful, but his body a faulty hormonal soup.

And the man loved to eat.

"So who is this marvelous person that you're so worried about?" asked Isaac. "It must be someone important, with all the secrecy."

"You'll see." Zakharov checked something on his quicklink and walked down a side hallway, stopping at a metal door. He touched a DNA lock mechanism and the door clicked open.

The room they entered was a small, but clean, cafeteria room. Long metal tables with rubbery padded benches marched in neat rows down one side, and a series of white vending machines covered a section of the far wall. The place was fairly empty, but a scattering of people sat at the tables, one group laughing quietly over some shared joke. One man sat alone at a far table, spooning a dark soup to his lips.

"Look there," said Zakharov. "Closely."

Isaac studied the man eating the soup. He was tall and broad-shouldered, but with a tight, narrow waist. His skin was fair and pale under the cool wash of light in the room, and his hair was a striking silvery blond. He glanced up, and Isaac could see that his eyes were deep brown, like wells. They started walking toward him.

"Is that the head scientist? He seems a bit stiff."

The man lifted another spoonful of soup to his lips. His face seemed frozen in time, held in an expression of utter calm and self-possession.

"That's what I've brought you to see," said Zakharov. "We call him the Ideal. A perfect Perfect, suited in every way to thrive in this world. A genetic masterpiece." He cleared his throat and said, in a whisper no louder than a soft breath, "Please lift your left hand."

The man did, his expression never changing.

"Amazing," said Isaac, transfixed. The man nodded and smiled, blinking once.

His eyes were now a bluish silver.

They left the room after talking to the man, whom Isaac was amused to learn was named Gene. As they walked slowly back toward the lab entrance, Isaac ruminated.

"He seemed a normal enough fellow. A bit distant. And his hand felt cool, like a piece of metal left out in the night air."

"If so, it was his choice. He has conscious control over skin temperature. He can constrict the blood, making his hands cold, or he can heat them to a significant degree."

Zakharov continued with his list of traits. "He has broad range hearing, an order of magnitude beyond a human. Eyes that can see in several spectrums, and can adjust to see in the dark or in extreme sunlight. Great strength in relatively compact limbs, which gives him phenomenal muscle speed. Skin that doesn't sunburn, a digestive system that needs half the food intake of you or I, hypersensitive touch."

"He seems a little dull, though. It's an impression I can't shake." Isaac sipped from his flask.

Zakharov nodded. "The impression is mistaken. His mind is wide open, the folds of cerebellum deeper than any human on Chiron. In fact, some of the Ideals are working in our most secret labs, generating new technologies for us. But you're right, they do have a certain blank aspect. Their minds must be trained to deal with a flood of sensory input greater than you or I could imagine. With their hypersensitive touch, and hearing, and sight, they have to adapt, by putting a kind of wall between themselves and the world. It's the only way they can survive."

"They? There are others?"

Zakharov nodded. "The man you saw is the second Ideal. There are about a hundred more. But it's the first one, the very first one, that has vanished."

Isaac's broad, soft hand touched Zakharov's arm. "Is this the man you're looking for? One of those?"

Zakharov nodded. "As I said, he's flawed. We didn't know how to train him to adjust to the power of his own mind. He was working in Academy Park when he became unstable, killed a security guard, and vanished."

"You can't locate him?"

"He's smart. And we think he's staying in the fringes, which aren't well patrolled. But my greatest fear is that he's gone to the Believers. Before he left he downlinked several of Sister Miriam's writings. All of them, in fact."

They stepped into a cool gray elevator that whisked them back to the upper levels of the tower. Isaac leaned against the wall, deep in thought. Finally he nodded. "Why the drop troops, Zakharov? Why the air search? It's just one man."

Zakharov stared at the elevator indicator panel as the lights winked softly there, measuring distance. "He was privy to a lot of our secrets. But that's not all."

He turned to face Isaac, dark emotions shadowing his ancient face. "Not one part of his genetic code remains untouched."

"The Xynan-Dylan Protocol?"

"Yes. We've compared their genetic profile to the Protocol. The average settlement human has no more than one standard deviation. Some Talents, and children who have been tweaked by their parents in various ways, may have three deviations, which is the limit allowed by the Protocol."

"And what do your Ideals have?"

Zakharov let out a short breath, as if pushing a heavy weight away. "Six deviations. By the Council genetic protocols, they aren't even human."

The next morning, Miriam Godwinson awakened in a room with cool slate walls. The room was spacious but sparsely decorated; the wooden crosses carved into the top of her four bedposts the only decorations. On the other side of the room was a stone basin filled with water to wash her face and hands, and a hard wooden bench if she chose not to perform her morning ...

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