If I recall correctly, I hinted in my last post as well as on Twitter that my next updates here would be something different. Well, the day has come! For the first time, I’ll be sharing a piece of fiction I’ve written with the world! (Also I don’t anticipate a great deal of writing time in the next few weeks, and I wanted to get some new posts up, so…) Because the story in question is a novelette (nearly 17,000 words), I feel it’d be a bit much to post the whole thing at once, so I’ll be sharing it here in 3 installments, which I hope will still not feel too long in the ‘blog’ context, hopefully not more than a week apart (part 2 will be up by Sunday, and part 3 hopefully within a week after that.)
Before we begin, just a bit of background on this piece. I originally wrote this as an entry to Writers of the Future, and after it didn’t get anywhere there I submitted it once to an editor I had met and while he didn’t want it, I got some great feedback and edits on it. From there it basically became a choice of whether to try and send it elsewhere or just put it up here, and I sided with this option, as I was busy enough trying to query my completed novel.
So here it is, the only really substantial short (if 17,000 words can be considered short) piece of fiction I’ve done since I decided this was what I wanted to do with my life. In all fairness, I wouldn’t call it my best piece of writing, because my interest (and dare I say talent) leans far on the side of the novel, but I was pleased with this in the end, and it was a lot of fun to write (and I was happy it allowed itself to stay satisfying while not ballooning beyond novelette size.) Genre-wise, I’d classify it as sci-fi, maybe military sci-fi.
Without further delaying, here is the first installment of On Angels’ Wings. Hope you enjoy it at least as much as I enjoyed writing it, and if you like it, feel free to share it around (either as I post the parts or once all 3 are up)!
At least the formatting doesn’t seem to have been completely butchered in the copy over. Though feel free to let me know if there’s something I could do to make it look better. 🙂
On Angels’ Wings
By: Yakov Merkin
Aren walked through the sterile, gray hall of the command center, his only guide a series of soft blue lights embedded in the walls that flashed once per second. The question foremost on his mind was not where he was being led, but rather why he had been ordered there and now directed deeper within the compound. He was part of the Eidolon Initiative, yes, but there were over a hundred people in the program, and he was probably the least experienced; he’d been drafted only six months earlier, at the age of nineteen. Ancient, by eidolon standards. Recruits were normally drafted at age thirteen or fourteen, sometimes as early as ten. He knew of no one else brought into the program at any age older than fifteen.
Had he done something wrong? Surely if he had, he’d have been arrested, or something, not have been ordered here. All the same, however, a part of him worried.
The blinking lights turned a corner, and Aren followed. There was reason, of course, for him to be drafted. Like all of the other operatives in the, he had a special gift: He was capable of tapping into the Penumbra, “raw power” in the words of his instructors. By accessing the Penumbra, Aren could do several things, from mind reading to telekinetic manipulations, to creating invisible energy constructs such as shields, blades, and projectiles. His teachers had even told him that he was potentially one of the most powerful eidolons they’d even seen. But they also made sure he knew that without training, raw power was nothing. And they were right. Why, then, had he been ordered, with no warning, to pack his things and relocate here, to the central command center of the fleet?
The lights led him to a doorway. It was smooth metal, the same color as the walls. In its center was the emblem of the Eidolon Initiative; an ethereal, glowing-eyed figure superimposed over the standard emblem of the Confederation of Terran Worlds. Aren looked at the image for a moment, at the eidolon in particular. Eidolon had two meanings: The first was obvious; an apparition, untouchable by mortals. But the second was just as important: an ideal, or an idolized figure. Eidolons were said to be the future of humanity, something to strive toward. Aren didn’t feel like an ideal. He felt more like the ghosts he’d seen in children’s entertainment, ineffectual despite the power he possessed.
He placed his hand on a scanner next to the doorway and positioned his eye opposite another. A moment later, the scanners beeped to life, light passing over his eye and hand. After another long moment, the doors opened with a hiss, and Aren stepped through.
His silent, blinking guides reappeared as the door shut, and Aren continued. At least he didn’t feel too nervous. It helped that he had no idea what they wanted him for. Definitely more curiosity than worry.
The lights soon stopped at an unmarked door. This was it, then. Aren looked over his uniform, and made sure that it hadn’t shifted, that the pin was in the right spot on his chest, that the small, metallic components of the suit were in the right position, and that there wasn’t any dust—not that there was any chance of that, as he’d gone from one sterile environment to another. Still, it never hurt to check. He’d been chewed out more than once for not being properly presentable, and these men were the highest ranking in the entire military. Whatever they wanted him for, Aren wanted to make a good impression. He also ran a hand over his dark hair, to ensure that it was in place. While it was cut short, it was longer than that of normal soldiers; the military standards of hair length didn’t apply to eidolons in the same way.
Satisfied that he looked presentable, Aren took a deep breath, stood up straight, and stepped just in front of the door.
The door hissed open, and Aren stepped into a surprisingly bright room. Once his eyes adapted, he saw five men seated at a long table across the room, facing him and the door, wreathed by the blackness of space, visible through the window behind them.
“Trainee Aren Tovar, thank you for reporting on such short notice,” said the man at the center of the table, the fleet admiral, by the bars and stripes on his uniform. Aren felt like he should know the man’s name, but it escaped him at the moment. The others were the fleet’s four vice admirals. The five most important men in the entire military, gathered here to talk to him. It was crazy.
“Do you know why you’re here?” the fleet admiral continued.
“No. No, sir,” Aren replied, making sure his arms were stiff at his sides and his back straight. “I was given the order to relocate here, and I followed it. I have no idea at all why you would want me here.”
The fleet admiral smiled slightly. He was an older man, but any charm the wrinkles might’ve had was lost by the hardness in his face, and his bright, focused eyes which didn’t linger on Aren for long. “How much do you know about the state of the war?” he asked.
“To the best of my knowledge, there has been an undeclared cease-fire for almost two months now, sir. I presume because both we and the vellak needed to regroup and rebuild after we drove them back at the Battle of Traxis. And I assume there is no chance that this is the end of the war.”
“That is correct, trainee,” said the man to the right of the fleet admiral. “There will be no peace with them; those creatures cannot be reasoned with. And that is all you could possibly know now. There is other information, however, classified for reasons you will soon understand.” He nodded toward the admiral on the far left, the youngest of the group, who looked…nervous.
The image out of the window changed abruptly. Now Aren saw one of the vellak worlds, but more importantly, he saw warships. A lot of warships.
“The enemy is rearming at an alarming rate, far faster than we can. They do not yet know this, but we cannot keep that information hidden for long. When they discover this, they will attack, and we will lose. We are perilously close to losing this war, and with it our survival as a species. We must take drastic action if we are to survive.”
Aren felt a chill come over him. This was bad. Now his call-up began to make a little more sense. But this didn’t explain everything.
“If I may ask a question, sir, why me? I’ve barely completed basic training, let alone the advanced training necessary to truly be an eidolon at all. Surely there are others more qualified”
“Tell me, Mr. Tovar,” replied the fleet admiral, “do you know why we chose to recruit you despite your being well above the standard recruiting age for the Eidolon Initiative?”
“My abilities manifested late, sir. I assumed that, being at war, the fleet needed every one of us it could find.”
The fleet admiral nodded. “Partially correct. Yes, every eidolon we can find is vital. But there are reasons we recruit young, and not just because that is when the powers manifest. Generally even if we do come across someone who manifested late, they are not brought into the program, instead drafted into other areas of the military. So no, that is not the sole reason we took you. The reason you were drafted, and the reason you stand in this room today, is because you are, in terms of raw power, the second most powerful eidolon we have ever come across.”
Aren tried to not let his surprise show. Could that be true? “But sir, with all due respect,” he said after a moment of uncomfortable silence, “until I’m trained, the power means nothing…”
The fleet admiral nodded. “That may be so, but it is also a fact that certain things can only be done at all if you possess sufficient power.”
“You are wondering what it is that so few of you are capable of, yes?” said the man directly to the left of the fleet admiral, who pointedly avoided eye contact. “You are aware that the vellak are much more proficient in tapping into the Penumbra than we are, correct?”
“It runs deeper than that, however. Every vellak has at least some small ability to tap into the Penumbra. It is how they are able to navigate without eyes. But more importantly, it is how they link minds.”
All vellak were linked to another, sharing everything, able to act as one. Aren didn’t know much about the nature of the link, but he did know was that it made them very effective soldiers. Each fire team literally shared a mind, and could react faster than even the most attuned pair of humans. And if they did that through the Penumbra, then that meant…
“You need an eidolon pair that can mimic that mental bond,” he said aloud. “Sir,” he added belatedly.
The fleet admiral nodded. “Exactly. Most of our attempts at this have failed, and all but one of the few who could do so successfully were killed in action. You and your partner are our last shot at making this work.
“I assume you are familiar with the eidolon who goes by the callsign ‘Snap.’”
Aren felt his heart skip a beat. Snap was a legend among legends, the finest the Eidolon Initiative had ever produced. No one Aren had met had even seen him in person, and as a result the legends and tales only grew wilder. And now he, Aren Tovar, barely out of basic training, would work alongside the eidolon his instructors idolized!
“Of course, sir,” he finally said, unable to hide a slight smile.
“Good. Well then I suppose you two should meet and hear the mission parameters.”
Just as the fleet admiral stopped speaking, Aren felt something in his mind that could only be another eidolon, looking in. “Snap?” He thought toward the presence.
“Well hello there,” said a distinctly female voice. Aren was quite confused until he heard the door open.
He turned to look, and could not keep from staring. Striding into the room was one of the most attractive women he had ever seen. She had a slim build, stood about as tall as Aren, and had blond hair that hung just past her shoulders, most of it tied back in a ponytail. She wore a bodysuit similar to Aren’s, and she walked with more confidence than anyone he had ever seen. The only thing that didn’t match were her light brown eyes. Once, certainly, they had fit in with the rest of her beauty, but Aren saw the hardness in them, the eyes of a seasoned soldier. There was no doubt that this was the famous Snap, but part of his mind was still unable to grasp the fact that Snap was a woman; Snap had always been referred to as male. Then again, that was by people who’d never met her.
She was clearly looking him over as well from the moment she entered the room. “At least they found a good looking one this time,” she said loud enough for the admirals to hear as she stopped alongside him, and followed it up with a wink that made Aren’s face heat up.
“I think we bring the average age in here down to a respectable ninety, don’t you think.” she remarked immediately afterward.
Aren was frozen in shock. Did she have no respect for the command staff? “I, uh,” he stammered before being saved by the fleet admiral.
“Glad you decided to arrive in a timely manner, Elite Eidolon…Snap,” he said. He clearly did not like referring to her by callsign. There was definitely a look of fear in the admirals’ eyes.
Snap smiled, perhaps a bit too widely. “Finally got the memo, then. And really, disruptors again, Grandpa? What could the five of you possibly have to hide from me?”
Disruptors were devices that dampened an eidolon’s ability to access the Penumbra, like putting something between the hand and the water. It made sense for the admirals to use them—though these were probably just to shield their mind. Larger, more sophisticated disruptors could make an eidolon completely unable to reach the Penumbra while close to it.
“As you were, Eidolon,” the fleet admiral replied quickly, finally injecting some sense of authority into his voice. He cleared his throat, then continued. “This is Aren Tovar, the trainee eidolon who will be your partner for the mission we have planned for you.”
Snap laughed. “Wait, wait, wait. You’re setting me up on some mission so vital that all five of you came out here to personally talk to me, and you give me this as my only backup? No offense,” she added with a glance at Aren. “I nearly got killed last mission. Flare did get killed, and she’d been in the program for years!” She dissolved into a fit of laughter for a moment, and leaned against the wall. “You are joking, right?”
The fleet admiral’s expression didn’t change. “Have you ever heard me joke, Eidolon?”
“I believe I just did.” Snap stood up again, her expression incredulous. “Alright then, I’ll humor your little council of old men. Tell me all about your grand, brilliant plan,” she said, gesturing animatedly—mockingly. Aren still couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“Thank you for the invitation, Eidolon Snap. Now if you’d just remain still and silent, we will tell you everything you need to know.”
Snap shrugged and rolled her eyes, but did as ordered—or rather, requested. “Go ahead,” she said with a mock bow.
“As I explained to Trainee Tovar,” the fleet admiral began, “we are in dire straits. The enemy is rearming far too quickly for us to keep up. If we are to win this war, we must launch a damaging strike, and soon.” He nodded to another one of the admirals, and the image behind them changed again.
“The reason only the two of you can complete this mission, eidolons, is because your target is on a vellak controlled planet. It will be impossible for you to make it there undetected, and as such you will have to mimic their mind link. Once there—”
“I’ve always known your heads weren’t on straight,” Snap interrupted loudly, “but I thought that you at least understood how the damn world works. It took me fucking ages to master the fine skill needed to pull that off. And the last time we tried to fool the vellak by doing that, they found us out real quick, and in case you forgot already, Flare died!”
“We know, Eidolon. We know we’re asking a lot. But the fact of the matter is, if we don’t take this chance, we doom ourselves to defeat.”
“Easy for you to say, old man. You’re not the ones who have to put your asses on the line!” Snap interjected, then took a step forward.
“Are you saying you can’t do it, Snap? Before even hearing exactly what you are being asked to do?” asked the youngest of the admirals.
Immediately, Aren knew they had gotten to Snap. He backed away slightly as Snap’s eyes narrowed and her face flushed. “Well, fine then! Tell us!.”
Aren tried to back further away, but all of a sudden he felt a hand on his shoulder, and found himself getting moved forward.
“Come on, tell us what the deal is,” Snap repeated as she pulled Aren back alongside her. “I’m sure the trainee here is eager to hear what he’ll be doing when he dies.” She turned to him and grinned. “It’s very easy, I assure you.”
Aren tried to remain focused on the admirals. What they said would be important. “Don’t count on it,” Snap commented in his mind. That could prove problematic. Aren decided to just remain quiet; Snap had probably gotten them in enough trouble already. He had been ready to accept many things when he’d entered the briefing, but getting partnered with someone who had no respect for the command structure was not one of them.
The display shifted, and it now showed a large structure on the planet’s surface. Aren had never seen a vellak structure so large. It reminded him of a termite mound; impressive in size and organization while still asymmetrical.
“This structure,” the admiral began, “houses the vellak military’s primary arms production facilities. It is also close to one of their primary staging areas. You get in and blow it up, we take out a huge chunk of their production and throw them into disarray while we launch an attack and try to put an end to this war before we fall irreversibly behind. We’ll provide you with our scans of the facility and information on its security. Any questions?”
Snap shrugged. “Pfft, no, of course not. Your plan makes perfect sense. Most brilliant thing I’ve ever heard. We’ll get right on it.” She clapped Aren on the back hard enough to make him stumble.
“Uh, actually,” Aren said with no small amount of trepidation, “I have one. Sir. If I may ask,” he continued, with a brief glance at Snap’s disapproving face, “when will this operation take place?”
The admiral smiled thinly. “Civility, imagine that? One week. Our last bit of subterfuge will have convinced the enemy that we will be at full strength in one week. We must attack before then. You will be given anything you require to complete the mission.”
Aren heard Snap barely holding back laughter, and a moment later she produced a small knife, which she began to rotate in the air.
“I’ll take you up on that last bit,” Snap said once she recovered. “Well, then, time’s not going to wait for us, and there’s lots to do. Now if you’ll excuse us, I’ve got to break in the colt if we’re to have any chance of living more than another week.” She sent the knife spinning toward the admirals, who recoiled, but it veered away and returned to Snap’s hand as she grinned and gave a tiny, mocking bow.
“Come on, Colt,” she said. “Let’s go. We’ve got a lot to do.”
Aren nodded, and after a last glance back at the admirals, followed Snap out of the room. What had he gotten himself into?
As the door hissed shut behind them, Aren turned to Snap, the fog of confusion in his mind slowly lifting. “Are you crazy? Those were the fleet’s most senior officers!”
Snap shrugged and turned to face him as well, so that they were uncomfortably close. “Come on, Colt, don’t be that way. You’re cute and all, but it’ll make our partnership more difficult if you act like that. They’re just men, and what’re they going to do, fire us? You saw how desperate they are. Hell, they brought you up here! If I’m going to make any progress with you at all before we go off on their suicide mission, you need to follow my lead.”
Aren felt himself flush again. Despite her attitude, Snap had a point. And besides, it was already hard for him to say no to her. He’d been preparing himself to deal with a superior similar to his instructors in basic training, but he had to throw that out the airlock with Snap as his only company. So instead of arguing, he smiled. “Colt? Really?” he asked.
Snap shrugged. “I always wanted to raise a horse when I was little, but then I was drafted. You’ll have to do. Now come on, we have to get started,” she replied, then snapped her fingers and started off down a hallway identical to all of the others Aren had seen in the base thus far.
“So where do we begin?” Aren asked as he tried to keep up. Was Snap intentionally walking fast or did it come naturally?
“Assessment. I need to figure out how little you know, and how much work it’ll take to whip you into shape.” She stopped in front of a featureless door, turned and flashed him a smile. “Can’t promise that there won’t be actual whips involved.”
The door slid open and Aren followed Snap inside, lights turning on as the door shut behind them. They were in a training room; the floor and walls were covered in blue-gray mats, and there was a wide variety of training equipment arrayed around the room.
Snap moved to a spot on the mats far from the walls or equipment. “Let’s see what you’ve got,” she said as she spread her arms wide. “Come on, try and take me down.” When Aren didn’t immediately move, she crossed her arms. “Well, come on! I don’t bite,” she added with a grin.
Aren stared at her for a long moment. He wasn’t sure whether he was more attracted to or afraid of her.
“You going to make me order you to attack me?” Snap asked.
Aren steadied his breath and approached Snap, assuming a fighting stance as he neared. When he was in range, he unleashed a series of rapid strikes designed to bring her down quickly.
He never got close. Faster than he could track, Snap somehow reversed everything, and Aren found himself flat on his back, with Snap practically on top of him, pinning him to the floor. “Well it seems you really are fresh out of basic,” she said, brining her face down close to his. “Try again.”
She got off of him, and Aren tried to calm himself as he tried to take her down again.
And once again, he was dropped hard onto the floor. “You fight like a girl,” she said. “Or maybe you just don’t want to hit one. Too bad. We’re going to keep doing this until you make progress.”
And they did, Aren ending up on the floor another half dozen times, to Snap’s vocal disappointment. He was at least able to track her motions by then, which was a plus, as she did the same thing each time.
The next time he tried, he was ready for her, and just managed to counter her attack. Finally, it was Snap on the floor. “And the colt stands,” she said even as she was pinned down. “How do you feel?” she asked.
Aren couldn’t help but smile. “A bit relieved, but still frustrated. I’ll take this small victory.”
“Good,” she replied before seemingly effortlessly getting free and turning the tables so she was on top once more. “Don’t expect too many of those. But at least you proved you can learn, young Colt,” she added, running a finger along Aren’s face before leaping off of him. She stood a short distance away as Aren stood up and caught his breath. “Now, we try something else.”
And on they went for hours, Aren being the one knocked around nearly every time. When Snap finally announced that they were done for the day, Aren found he lacked the strength to push himself up off the floor again. “I think I hate you,” he muttered as Snap looked down at him, expression incredulous. Then she offered him her hand.
Aren didn’t take it immediately, wary of a trap that would lead to more mocking and pain. After a bit of thought, however, he decided that it couldn’t be any worse than what she’d already done. He accepted her offer, and was pleasantly surprised when she simply helped him up.
“Don’t hate me yet, colt. We’ve got six more days of this. And if today was any example, well…”
“I actually have a question,” Aren said as he gingerly rotated the arm he’d most recently fallen on. “We’re going to be fighting vellak. What’s the point in spending precious time on techniques that work on humans?”
“Well look who’s so clever,” Snap replied. “It could be that I wanted to get a feel for you, gauge your mindset and skill set. Or maybe I just wanted to get my hands on you, and grappling was a convenient excuse to do so.” She had a wicked smile on her face. “And don’t give me that look, Colt!” she added a moment later as Aren started to shake his head. “You know you enjoyed it too, don’t lie to me.”
Aren chose the safest answer, silence.
“Well then,” Snap said, “go get some rest before you fall over. You’ll need it for tomorrow. I’ll assess your infiltration skills—without using the Penumbra. I hope they’re more impressive than your combat skills. To reach your quarters, continue down this hallway, then take your second left. You room is the first on the right. Rations will be delivered there; I’ll get you in the morning.”
Aren didn’t immediately move, unsure of what to say. A moment later, she slapped him on the rear. “I told you to go, Colt!”
Aren hurried out of the room, glad for some time to himself. He still wasn’t sure whether he was more attracted to, or scared of, Snap. She was quite unlike any of the girls he’d known back home, that was for certain. Hopefully, he’d figure her out before they went into the fire together.