“He has been coached,” Sivar intervened. “Really?” Dion continued with a mounting sarcasm, “I told him to expect to be railroaded into apostasy? I should challenge you right here and now. You tracked us here. I took public transport just so you could not factually accuse me of coaching him. Even I did not think you would would sink so low. Then again, your faction has already committed to sacrificing Paulos in the name of duty. None of the other Principalities are sending their best. They are sending their fucking prisoners and offal! Cease this display. You have won. You have removed a pagan hero from your precious theocracy; now you just have to deal with the hundreds of different interpretations of your precious Christianity…which your Christ did not even live to form.”
The planes of her face hardened but her lips barely moved. “You dare!”
“Of course I dare,” his voice was ginger marmalade, sweet and burning. “I am a Primate, you are a Prelate of a Principality, you have powers in this material land, but We Who Seek are the authority in matters of the spirit. This boy died. He was placed with a man all but fated to die to make his last days a joy. Do not piss on that because you disapprove on grounds not even supported by the Council of Prelates.”
“He will be an apostate!” she hissed. “He will be exiled to the wastes forever.”
“No, he will not. He has been given a new task.” The proctor’s voice broke into the conversation. “Prelate Sivar, taking your suggestions into account, we have made a decision. He will not join the Legion. We remand him into your custody, Prelate.
A Dion-shaped transparent warp in reality appeared in the elevator car, his face twisted in a rictus of astonished anger. I backed against a wall, but his attempt to appear failed. As he was sucked away, I caught sight of Sivar’s focused expression and I lost consciousness.
I woke up immobilized on a hard flat bed, the taste of tar and ash in my mouth. My head was pounding and my vision wavered in and out. My limbs were restrained. At my left leg, a needle fed a glowing black fluid into an artery. At my right arm, a device that reminded me of a dialysis machine drew out a glowing purplish-red fluid and fed a dark, oily red fluid back into me.
“Jesus Christ,” I whispered. “What in the hell is happening to me?”
“You are serving your Purpose,” Primate Dion replied. He was sitting next to me, wearing sedate, unadorned snow white wool robes.
“I feel sick,” I murmured. “May I have some water?”
His wide face frowned and shook slowly. “It would dilute the solution we are trying to maintain in your system.”
I was nude with only a towel draped across my midsection. My chest felt laden, my lungs hurt when I breathed. “Help me.” I felt myself dragged into darkness. I died. Just like when I died the first time.
What happens when you die in heaven? Paulos said we are reborn fully whole to new purpose and we continue our eternity unless we had done something horrible to offend the Host of Heaven.
My eyes bulged and I screamed as my heavenly body rebooted bringing me to full consciousness. I screamed again trying to mount the vaguest offense but I failed as desire crumbled against a continuing wave of acrid nausea that offered no release.
“By the Father’s Holy Word,” someone whispered out of sight, “That is the tenth time tonight. We should pray for him.”
“Your prayers are not to comfort him.” Dion’s voice was stony. “They are to comfort you. You should leave.” Dion put a calming hand on my head, “I am here to offer assurance that he is not alone during this period of trial. You are here to make sure enough plasma is processed to send with the troops before they leave for Antarctica.”
“Yes Primate!” I saw hands adjusting needles and dials joined by a masked face, also in white. They retreated from view and I heard the whisper of a door.
“We are alone,” Dion said. “You should speak if you want.”
“This is for Paulos?” I asked.
“Not just Paulos, but all of those who find themselves in the displeasure of their various Prelates and thus find their assignments changed to the dead end of the Atlantean Front.”
I breathed, and hissed my away around the pneumonia-like pain of my leaden lungs, “What is pumping into me?”
“Essence taken from a first generation arch-demon,” he replied. “It is the best treatment for wounds earned battling the creatures expected to enter from the rift in the downed Atlantean Principality. Well, it is the best treatment after it has been prepared and treated.”
“Run through someone,” I replied.
“Filtered through several someones,” he amended. “Or in your case filtered through someone several times.”
“Oh,” I replied. “Why me? And who else is in here?”
“Mostly outcasts from the city at the base of the tower, making a great sacrifice to earn entrance to the Principality itself,” he explained. “You are here because you may escape with integrity; you are resisting disruption so far.”
“Why can’t you just ask an angel to contribute?” I asked waspishly.
“Because the angels won’t,” he replied. “We are mostly on our own up here. God is elsewhere, doing its thing, creating.”
A wave of nausea carried something heavy and immolating into my esophagus and a geyser of flame erupted from my mouth. I guess that’s where the nasty taste came from. I felt better though. “Will Paulos come?”
“He knows,” Dion said. “He has access to the facility. He can come. You should sleep,” Dion replied. “More is coming.”
I had no choice, I slept. I awoke fully on the cusp of a death, Dion looking down at me. A forest of tubes and needles grew from my arms and legs. I died, smothered from the inside out and insides hardening. I was tired…so tired. “What is happening?”
Dion tried to sound soothing, “This is the last of the essence, harvested directly from the demon’s corpse, and then you will be done. You will be a citizen able to come and go to any of the Principalities.”
I sniffed the air; nothing but disinfectant, and the smell of burned tar, bile, and a faint smell of herbs. Paulos had not been here.
“Your heart hardens,” Dion said.
“Paulos did not come,” I replied.
“He knows,” Dion said sadly. “He just could not come.”
I did not have much memory of the filtering beyond my first conversation with, “How many times did I…”
“Would you like to pray?” he asked, stepping over the question.
“What would I pray for?” I replied. “Vengeance? No that would be a waste. Safety for Paulos and the other Legionnaires sent to a place so horrible that the best medicine for their wounds is the filtered blood of demons. So pray for them.”
“And what about yourself?” he asked gently. “It is okay to ask for yourself.”
“Vengeance?” I asked.
“Vengeance is not a matter for God,” he replied. “Not here. The chosen are allowed to quarrel and bicker as they may.”
“Besides why should I waste the effort,” I replied. “No, I pray for safety for Paulos and more importantly for the Legionnaires who he will depend on to come through his situation alive. I pray that I make it through this experience intact, or better than intact. I pray that my ability to believe has not been permanently damaged. I pray that as soon as this is over, I can get my identity papers, money, and equipment and get the hell off of this space station! And if that is not enough, I pray for power so I can make anyone else stop doing this to me.”
“It is not Sivar’s fault,” Dion said. “It is my vision that brought us to this point. If you are angry at anyone be angry with me. I pushed everyone into a corner where this was your only option and I knew you would do it not just with acceptance, which was necessary, but with love.”
“What?” I hissed.
“It is one thing to have duty, or even altruism, but love… Even if someone says they love everyone it is sometimes a cerebral love, born primarily of the mind. But love, love is fragile. It wavers between its extremes and with enough pressure, it dies. But that ember of love, that emotion that unites heart, mind, and soul, is a catalyst and it works best to clean the detritus from the essence of the Fallen creature.
I vomited again, a plume of fire, this time dirty with purplish black flames. The pressure eased on my chest. “Primate Dion, I would hate you, but the problem is that you set me free.”
His voice came back shocked, disturbed. “Free?”
“Divine love was the only love I let myself believe in or feel,” I replied. “For a little while, the love that I denied myself in life was mine in death. You gave me the sky, by forcing me to see what I can do.”
“It was a demonstration of why you were a good candidate for eremenos,” he replied. “It was always there.”
“It is not always the presence of the event, but the timing as well.” My voice sounded distant and I felt as if I were talking over a chasm. “Fuck it,” I muttered. “This is the last thing I pray for: forgiveness. This has been a wonderful life and if my eternity is shorter than my life, so be it. I will not go into the dark burdened with angry thoughts towards other.” I turned my attention inward and Dion put me back to sleep.
I snapped awake to a hot object being driven into the skin of my upper right shoulder. And I could move…sort of. My limbs, free of needles now, had shriveled, and the veins stood out against the skin as black lines.
Dion produced a blade, sliced a chunk out of his thigh, and fed me the strips of bloody meat. The warm blood brought to mind memories of steak and I slurped it down before I could stop myself.
The wound had healed over, but there was still concave area in his thigh, “I have been outmaneuvered.” He chatted casually. “There is a detachment of Principality Guard coming to escort me to the Prelate Council on the moon so I can explain my actions. They just want to try and get me into one of their interrogation sarcophagi to find out what my and Sivar’s outward animosity was possibly hiding. I will be Challenging them to trial by combat for the rest of the week and unable to micromanage your treatment here.
“When you wake up, get out of this room, turn right, go to the end of the T-shaped hall. Turn left at the glass door marked “Staff Lavatory,” go inside, and look for the lockers. Inside locker number five, you will find your things. I have branded your identity pattern onto your shoulder. Any of the standard scanners should be able to read it and any of the old guards will recognize the brand. Once you get dressed, move deeper into the lavatory. Your package includes a wrist computer and navigator. It has a path to the closest airlock mapped.
“Sleep and heal” I was wrapped in a cocoon of hot, solid prana and I went to sleep without any pain.
I woke up in time to see the edges of the cocoon receding.
“They have me,” Dion’s voice whispered on the air. “They sent mercenaries. Esca….”
I rolled off of the slab, moving quickly to the door.
A guard was waiting. “Where do you think you’re…”
I glanced towards both sides of the hall and shut the door in his face, held it closed and began concentrating. I couldn’t do the turn-into-light-and-pass-through-things like Paulos could. I lacked the talent. So, Paulos had taught me a less popular alternative.
The guard was starting to come in when I teleported to the end of the right hall, stepping through blackspace, the shadow reflection of material space of heaven, the back door of reality, so to speak. I could not wool-gather while doing this. I needed to bridge and arrive where I needed to be. I was rash. I concentrated and simply willed myself to the target and I didn’t arrive with a limb embedded in a wall or floor. According to Paulos, it wasn’t “real” teleportation, instantaneous point to point movement. I was just stepping out of regular reality, walking a bit, and stepping back in.
From my new vantage point, I watched the guard fall into the room, and I sprinted out of sight down the hall, and into the staff lavatory, which was empty. I found the lockers… they used combinations for locks. I manifested a horrifically thin, small blade of my own prana, the gold mottled by a growing purple stain, and I sliced through the lock.
There was a heavy duty watch-like thing folded clothes on top of a satchel and a note, “Hurry!”
I dressed. The clothes were surprisingly modern, almost like U.S. military battle dress, but all dun-colored and made of some sort of linen impregnated with something that gave it more substance. A hooded robe covered everything, although I had to take it off briefly to loop the satchel’s shoulder band cross-wise over my torso.
Lumps in my pants pockets brushed against my thighs as I hurried deeper into the room. A quick check revealed a pouch full of tiny pebbles. I dug in checking to see if something was concealed but there nothing. I turned on the watch-thing.
“Please press the pad of your right forefinger to the face for security check,” the watch said.
Incredulously, I pressed the face of my nub against it.
“Biometric pattern recognized,” the device responded vocally. “Initiating autorun sequence.”
The device logged into the C.N.A.P. public network, and gave me a basic map of where I was and a path leading to the closest airlock.
“Um, computer, show all airlocks in the vicinity,” I asked. The closest air lock required a lot of twists and turns to reach. However, there was an airlock farther away, but a straight shot. I set my way-point for that destination.
I pulled up the hood and tried to be casual, not looking back and forth, mind clear, feelings kept in check in case someone was “listening.” The unadorned white halls threatened me with disorientation. Somehow I remembered the hallways and byways of the decks where I entered the sky city being less… chichi.
Less than fifty yards away from my goal, two people fell into step behind me. About thirty yards away, someone fell into step next to me, a young woman, brown leather jacket, matching pants, boots, brown skin, bald, two studs glowing in each ear. A harness pattern was integrated in the leather.
“You look lost,” she commented.
“I am not,” I replied.
“The hospital wing is in the opposite direction,” she said.
“That is not my direction,” I answered. I saw the intention, “Do not touch me please.”
“You are sick,” she said.
“You are lying,” I replied.
Everything seemed to slow down.
Her hand shot out. I propelled myself out of reach racing down the hall towards the airlock. The woman, shrouded in her own flaring pranic field, bore after me in pursuit. I reached the doorway and put a pranic barrier between me and them. My gold energy was now slicked through with deep violet lesions, an extremely disturbing development especially considering purple was one of my least favorite colors.
The woman manifested a pranic great axe and beat against my wall. Surprisingly, extremely surprisingly, it did not start to crack until her third strike. I was inside the airlock before my wall failed and began the depressurizing sequence looking frantically for an emergency button.
And then something so patently unfair happened: a ship lurched into view of the outer window, flares of light haloing the machine at multiple points.
Don’t get excited, I thought. Concentrate.
I teleported into the vacuum outside of the door and launched myself into space.
“You are fucking annoying,” the woman’s voice hissed through the speaker on my watch, through the membrane of air that surrounded me.
I did not bother replying to her. I accelerated out from the Principality in a wide arc.
“Say something, dammit!” she hissed.
“Why?” I asked. “Every time I talk to you people, the suffering escalates. I think I’m going to bow out in silence.”
I felt the ship moving behind me, the skin on the back of my neck prickling. I braked, and yawed upward at a crushing angle as I reoriented myself back toward the floating city, toward the lower half of it.
The ship, a graceful flying wing structure sprouted lights as its thrusters fired and it attempted to come around. I spared a passing thought for analysis. It was not fire blazing from the thrusters, but some type of pranic manipulation. It was so cool and wondrous to perceive and then I remembered what was in progress.
I suddenly had something to say, “Why in the fuck won’t you syphilitic cocks just leave me alone? This is not a game! This is not some fucking dogmatic power play. I am sick and tired of your Prelates and Primates fucking up my afterlife. GODFUCKING DAMMIT, I WISH GOD WOULD GIVE ME THE POWER TO MAKE YOU LEAVE ME ALONE!”
“You already have it,” Dion’s voice came over the communicator.
Why in the hell do they want to force me to use it? I thought.
I sensed the surge of prana in the forward part of the ship right before it fired. I jinked out of the way as a column of nearly invisible heat sheared past me.
I dove towards the ship. Someone screamed at Dion without closing the communicator, “You were supposed to talk him down, not goad him to attack!”
“You shot at him first! Now you will understand that you do not fuck with me,” Dion said flatly.
I struck from hate and anger, and I conjured a deceptive thin blade of purplish black prana miles long. Near the tip, its edge the silvery mirror of Paulos’ Divine Blade technique. The blade bent, meeting the leading edge of one of the wings of the maneuvering craft, and began cutting.
Divine Blade. It was a terrible thing. I exulted in its use. They raised a barrier to push me out, but by then the end the wing was no longer structurally sound, and began to shear away from the rest of the craft when it attempted to maneuver.
And then I saw the people falling out of the hole, flailing, rapidly stiffening. The ship’s shields flickered out of existence.
“Shit,” I spat. I accelerated, jaunting into blackspace to cross the ensuring distance rapidly and I emerged into the real world to scoop them up in a net of prana and I approached the slowly stabilizing vessel. I spotted a window and I prepared to teleport into the ship’s superstructure.
I dumped them unceremoniously onto the deck in the middle of a firefight… an actual firefight with guns. Maybe it was who I spent time with since coming here, but I… well expected everyone to be pointing at each other and expelling doom from their fingers.
However, the screams from the vacuum exposed people began to filter through the cursing of the shooters and everyone looked at them and then me.
“These people need help,” I said. “Stop shooting each other and get this limping scow back to the space station.”
There was a moment when I thought they were going to argue with me, but they did what I said.
Primate Dion strode up to me, any pretense of being an old man pretty much gone. “How does it feel to be a feared monster?”
“Shitty,” I replied.
“You are ill?” Dion asked. In my peripheral vision, I saw the axe-woman I’d escaped from on the Principality. I don’t know how she got here so quickly, but she was approaching and did not seem to recognize that I saw her.
“No,” I replied. “Actually I feel no different.” I parried her strike with a field of now deep violet force. “But some things are different.” I gave her a very hard look. “I should be going.”
“Now, now,” Dion said. “I need you to stay here and be menacing until I am safely in civilized hands again.”
“I thought these were Prelate Guard?” I asked.
“Outsourcing,” he replied. “Terrible.”
“And you let them do this?” I replied.
“Aye, the Prelate Council demanded my presence and I had to go with their rather coarse emissaries. My political limits were used against me,” he said. “You’re young, dumb, and angry. These things are expected of you and….”
I blocked another assault, but as I turned to face my persistent attacker, she teleported. I felt the air move where she began to reenter reality and kicked… I felt ribs give under the arch of my foot and she went flying. I looked to Dion, “That… is strength. I don’t have that. I’m not particularly impressive at all. What did you do to me?”
He replied, “Not me…we…”
A being ten feet tall, with the head of a lion with robes made of incandescent light appeared on the bridge of the ship.
Everyone dropped to their knees, Dion dragging me down by main force.
“Complaints have been made. I desire explanations,” it said simply. “Primate Dion, I would speak with you. Primates cannot lie to us.”
He looked up at the figure, his face ashen, he stood on shaking legs and walked to the figure, which spread its wings and disappeared. Everyone stayed bowed for several seconds. I took the moment to leave the ship and I made my way down the underside of the floating city, spiraling down the beanstalk.
About a mile above the surface of the planet, a lion headed figure in incandescent robes was hovering, looking up in my direction. I braked, considering that if I tried to run, it may get irritated; from what I remembered, angels had a tendency to break hips when one wrestles with them.
I hovered even with the creature. “No disrespect intended, but I do not know your proper address.”
It ignored the statement. “You and others have been wronged today. You are new children of Heaven but you were contaminated with the essence of the Fallen without foreknowledge of what it means. What punishment do you want for those who harmed you?”
I thought for a moment and I remembered the delirious conversation on the table. “I told the Primate that I forgive him and those involved. I was told that the act was to create treatments for one I loved. One I loved so much because I was finally able to experience non filial or sibling love. He cast me aside because he was sent to Antarctica to stand a dangerous duty.
“The means by which I found myself on the table were shady and the trauma was disturbing, but if it means that Paulos and the women and men fighting with him can live, then it was worth it.” My hands were shaking. Even if the words were correct, there was deep hurt that could not be stapled together with good feelings. “I told him that I forgive them all. But they did not leave me alone. I do not want revenge. I don’t want anything outside of being left alone to explore.”
“What if I told you that you want too much?” it asked.
“Then I do not want anything,” I replied. “I am happy as I am. Those that want to deal with me will do it on the terms we reach, either with words or with destruction.”
“You do not need anything?” it reiterated.
“Need is a sketchy thing,” I replied. “I do not know what I need beyond the feedback I have from reality. That is the only ‘need’ I have trust for at the moment. Begging your pardon but my human interactions have been very guided in their outcomes.”
Its head tilted as I babbled, “You do not need… anything?” It said.
“Is there something wrong, or lurking within me, that I need something?” I asked. “Are the changes that occurred from the filtering going to change my personality, make me different? Control me? Help something else to control me?”
“No, no, no, no and no,” the creature replied.
“Good, because I don’t want to change. I need to stay me forever,” I said.
“Then you shall remain as you are forevermore in the name of the Creator,” and it laid a massive, smooth palmed hand on my face and I saw… I could not remember what I saw and in the depths of my mind, it spoke my True Name and I changed and my True Name disappeared. I didn’t remember it anymore, not in the same way. And when it let go, I fell and blacked out… again. (by Hank T Cannon)