Flying is like playing an Old Eur harpsichord.
My fingers stretch wide and flutter over keys and touchpads, my silver nails skim as if over smooth ice. I can watch with my own eye and the thick oxy-smoke buffs against my pupils, keeping them from drying out in the absence of tears.
I watch the universe swirl by as I spin around and around in my forward arc back toward Earth. The spinning isn’t necessary this trip, as I left my mortal cargo on Fortune IX and all that accompanies me now are cubes of stri-rock and coated fossils in the cargo corridor. But I enjoy the spinning, so I never shut off the gravspiral.
When my last pilot began latching my wires into place in the warehouse under Fortune’s main dry dock, she’d said, “Ana, I wish I could go out with you, to see you dance.”
“You would not survive.” I sculpted my lips into a gentle frown. I liked her, and would gladly dance for her.
“I know.” She sighed, and the brown hair teasing her forehead fluttered up. I blew at it, laughing as the hairs tossed about in the low-grav field.
Her name was Jericha and she had flown with me between Fortune IX, Xerxes and Earth three times. Any more space time and her bones would collapse upon themselves.
“I have heard,” she said, “that they are working on a new generation of angels – a group born of human adults.”
I frowned. Early experiments had concluded that the post-adolescent brain could not adapt completely to sharing capacity through the dust.
We are called mech-angels, and we were born in fire.
In the Year 106 of Eternity a meteor shattered the left wing of the EFS PLUTARCH. The ricochets were felt throughout Mars-Com. When the remains were salvaged, traces of a new mineral were discovered fused to the metal. In a strange moment of serendipity, the mineral (designated S39-707, later known colloquially as angel dust) bonded with the exposed bones of the men and women killed in the crash.
Ten years later, the first angel was created. He was named Michael, and he was built into a freighter. He lived for sixty years and in many ways is my father.
In the empty, dead planes of outer space, we live unfettered by the boundaries of weak human genetics. Our blood is infused with angel dust, and our bones grafted onto its crystals in infancy. The dust poisons our brain, making us viable for implantation if we survive. Like parasites, we are bound into the hard-brains our ships, so that the dust flows between our bodies and the delicate machinery through tubes attached to our backs. When I breath into my clipper-ship for power-on, my silver blood fills the tubes and I am attached to the ceiling and walls by great, spreading wings.
The colors in space are impossible to describe. Bold flashes of psychedelic cluster galaxies against the black between pinprick stars. That’s the best I can do. The disconnect between the experience of beauty and the description of it is almost as overwhelming as the beauty itself.
But when I fly, alone in the vast mouth of beauty, the experience rips through me like electromagnetic shocks. It is the edge of everything, and I love it. I live for it.
I felt his arrival like a tropic breeze against my rear stabilizer. Warmth is not unheard of, when I am powered-on, because my sensors translate UV and some forms of quantum energy into temperatures for my meat-brain to interpret.
My heart picked up speed and the dust-blood flowed faster when he cut into my hull, along the smooth side beneath my designation numbers. I twisted and bucked, and hissing through my teeth as I heated my metal with an electric snap.
I heard his laugh rebound through the cargo corridor. It made my stomach tighten.
I locked down every door between him and my chamber. Red lights glowed hazy through the oxy-smoke. I caressed my touchpad and spun. Where was his ship? As he began to cut through the cargo doors into the inner circuits of the clipper, I scanned the space outside. I was nowhere. Nothing would hear any distress I sent for days. My tube-wings quivered as I shook and clenched my fists. He had no ship – how could he have no ship?
When he blew through the cargo door I felt the air suck out and spew into space. I was cold. I remembered the internal scans.
Visuals flickered to life before my eyes, wavering in the smoke.
He was beautiful.
An intricate metal suit clung to his body, melting against his muscles as he moved. It swam up over his face and slid back over his head to create a smooth helmet. On his back the metal pooled in a series of overlapping layers. Was it was new kind of space-walk suit? Could he possibly not have a ship?
When he reached the next door, instead of pulling out a heat-gun or explosives, he merely placed a silver hand onto the metal. His hand began to smoke. I screamed, in shock and fear. The noise cut through the scanners, and his chin jerked up. “Fear not, little angel,” he said.
I rallied my will and tripped the e-mag switch.
My body bent as the pulse of energy exploded out from me and my chamber. I saw all the colors of the universe, and the oxy-smoke vaporized.
It was dark then, and I was freezing. I blinked, my meat-brain reaching for the hard-brain, to connect with online functions and find out what I’d done to the intruder. Gentle red light flashed. One of my tubes had burst and silver ichor dripped lazily onto the floor.
And he was there. Standing in the arch of my chamber door. I opened my mouth but my lungs were too busy adapting to the oxy-deplete to form noise. He raised a hand and pressed a finger to his jaw. The helmet slinked back to reveal his face and head.
His skin was as silver as mine, his hair glowed like strands of Antrese pearl-fire. In his eyes were supernova bursts of gold and orange against a solid field of black. “I am Izrail, and I have come to free you, Ananchel.”
He knew my name, but I could not move. The gears that needed to shift so I could turn while plugged in were down still from the e-mag.
I shook my head. He was impossible. Rumors of an Angel of Death, of a free mech-angel, flying under his own power, had whispered at all of us for years. But it was impossible to function without a ship. Impossible. I leaned away from him. How did he breath in the oxy-deplete? “How…?” I managed.
“You will know, soon.” He put a hand to my back, caressing the bare skin between the tube-feeds. His fingers were warm. He twisted the clamp, and I gasped as the blood dust gushed out. And when he tore the clamp away from my flesh I cried out. Pain shot to my heart.
“You will fly with me, Ananchel, angel of grace. You will fly by my side for our own annunciations.” He slipped a finger along the ragged edge of my flesh, where the tube should have entered. I was distracted at the invasion, at the newness and horror of it. His warm skin centered all my thoughts on the hole in my upper back, where he’d removed the first of my tube-wing-feathers.
And I did not expect it when he tore the next one. Three – four – five – I lost count in the rush of heat as the thick angel blood spilled down my back. The pain was fire – like the fire in which we were born. He put his lips to my neck and kissed me there as he destroyed my wings. “Be born again,” he whispered.
The blood stuck to my skin, forming around my body, into a suit of silver-metal-armor. Like his.
“Be born again,” he repeated. “Breathe. Swallow your blood.” He held a dripping tube to my lips and the blood stuck to my tongue. I swallowed. It was tingling and warm, and when he put all his fingers into the holes of my back, I shuddered. It felt wonderful.
I stiffened when my meat-brain lost connection with the hard-brain. I was alone. The scanners – gone! I kicked and shoved at him, pushing, jerking back. My ship! My wings!
He took my hands and pulled me toward him. Together we exploded through the viewscreen and into nothing.
I blacked out. I died.
My new breathing was harsh. The silver-blood-helmet slid in and out of my mouth and I breathed it. In and out from habit. I knew, my meat-brain recognized, that I did not need the motion of my dust-encrusted diaphragm. I did not need to breath.
I opened my eyes. I floated in nothing, spinning slowly around him like a satellite. His helmet reflected my own, and somehow I could see through it – the angel-metal bonded to my eyes, I could see anything.
Behind him stretched the universe.
I stood at the edge of everything.