Saturday, May 26, 2012

"The Angel Who Never Was" by Jeanne Haskin Chapter 1

Small does not mean weak, Mihr tells herself. But it is hard to find courage when she is childlike in stature and Heaven’s enemies are great.

Already she is wounded, her side blackened and bloodied. Mist curls about her wings, clinging to hips and knees. Warriors surround her and the cloud floor rings with chaos. Power shatters the golden skyscape into fragments of fire and darkness. She leans heavily on her sword, clutching the gore-streaked hilt. Ivory chin-length hair falls across her face.

Her armor is light, prophecy, blessings. 

And this is not her end.

She sees him come for her, and he is not one of the Fallen.  He holds her, shields her.

Shivering in death’s shadow, she fades in and out of the future. 

“When all power is commerce, man’s death shall be near.” Her words are hoarse, urgent. “Then beware the maker of peace, who wears another’s face.”

She pulls him close to whisper what little she can say without changing what must be. “Be wise, Nephilim. And know that the greatest harm shall stem from winds of change.”

Her eyes close as he tends her wound.

She has been to the days of the damned.

There, she will meet him again. 

Chapter One

The more strength John loses, the more savage his cancer becomes. His pain is rending, relentless. 

"Please, Sarah," he says.

His wife bows her head and he knows she is praying.  Seated to the right of his bed, she is closer than the machines that straddle his supine form, measuring and assessing his wastage and tortured breathing.

A hair of cinnamon-silver is snared by her lip balm. The rest of it stays braided in a rope that reaches her waist.

Her appearance is practical and modest, the symbol of her deathwatch a matte-black, shapeless dress, her jewelry a wedding band. She has never worn cosmetics in the thirty-six years he's known her. Her nails are bare of polish. She reminds him of a birch tree with her spare, slender beauty and her black and white beliefs.

How stupid to think she could kill him.

John keeps his breathing shallow, trying to maintain composure, but the pain is corrosive and, gasping, he loses patience. "If you can't do it, let me. Move the morphine to where I can reach it. Please, Sarah, please."

He's so far past the point of tears that his eyes are miniature suns in sockets of broken glass. His hair is long, gray and matted. His skin is sunken and clings to his bones.  

Hemmed in by walls and machines beneath a low acoustical ceiling, he’s trapped, suffocating. “Why can’t you end it?”

Sarah's gaze glistens with pity. She opens the port in his vein to administer a morphine dose that’s nowhere near enough to kill him.

And it feels like it always does, an ocean of lassitude, until he is sucked down by the undertow that blinds him and renders him powerless in a dream of soundless screaming.


 John heaves himself awake, choking on ritual panic. 

"Was it the nightmare, Dr. Dahl?" The computer speaks over the beeping that measures the pace of John's heartbeat. High-pitched and frenetic, it starts to slow almost immediately.

"Yes," John says, panting. "The one I always have." His fingers are stiff from clutching the bed rails. Sweat dampens the sheets and pillows.

Now that he's awake, his pain returns to visceral levels.

"Do you require comforting, Dr. Dahl?" The computer speaks with John's voice by virtue of vocal recordings, but some of its words are synthesized. "Comforting" sounds mechanical, and the question itself is surprising.

John says, "You're not programmed for sentimentality."

"Is that what I offered you?"

"The word implies compassion and an ability to empathize, neither of which you have, James."

"Oh, but I do, Dr. Dahl. As a biomechanical entity with hybrid physiology, my programs have evolved on utilitarian principles. What is useful is also appropriate."

"I see." John uses the control pad to raise the head of his hospice bed. Now he can view the computer in its entirety, from the insulated womb of the central processing unit where his DNA is lodged to the surrounding banks of monitors and the blue vinyl veins, electronic organs and clear plastic arteries of the network interface.

The room they occupy on the main floor of the house is small with one wall of windows. It smells like antiseptic and sour body fluids. Room-darkening blinds make the night feel dense and close.  

John says, "Why do I scream without sound and why does no one care?" 

James says, "You're not afraid to die, John. You're afraid that you won't matter."


At least mentally, John and the computer exist in symbiosis. Linked by the equipment that surrounds and straddles the bed, they share thoughts, memories, and personality traits through a complex exchange of electrical impulses and chemical messengers. John's DNA provides the blueprint for biological compatibility and the mechanical-intellectual interface promotes synaptic bridging.

In everything but spirit, the computer is John's equal. They share one consciousness. As long as their minds are melded, John's thought capacity is more than superhuman.

All that is known can be accessed. All that has been informs his perspective. But none of this matters now.

He’s in too much pain to think and only desires death. Yet he can’t make James a killer.

That would give him the power of choice and alter his algorithms.
It would make James unpredictable.

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Want to learn more about this author? Look Jeanne Haskin up on the Contributors page, where you can see everything that each individual writer has contributed, visit their personal webpages, and more!

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