"Sliding" by Georgi Ostashov

 

Angels at Penumbra
by Mark R. Yohalem

 

"Angels with dragonfly wings, Fly up to heaven with me," throbbed the tenor voice of Celestino, from speakers held in the hands of stylized divinities. A massive Buddha held a large one in his lap, and across from him Christ's nails supported two more. The music, soft light, and warm air drew Erin out from her shuttle and into the lobby. Huge orchids opened all around her and their smell was a heady perfume.

"Ms. Kostow," smiled an attendant, her lips glossed purple to match the orchids. Erin smiled back, concealing her true feelings behind sparkling eyes and white teeth. She took the offered hand, then planted kisses on each of the 'sthetic's cheeks.

"It's everything they advertise," Erin replied, once she had stepped back. She pointed to the orchids. "So large. Their scent would draw insects for kilometers."

The guide giggled and put her glittering hands to her chest. They clashed with the swirling colors and shapes painted on her skin. "Insects! Of all things! This is a resort!" She giggled again, then caught her breath. "I'm Etherea."

"A beautified name. It suits this place." They made small talk over the voice of Celestino, while Erin stared out the huge crystalline windows. The day had begun to turn, and already orange streaks of gas were shooting up into the sky, expanding and separating into gold and crimson. Etherea followed her gaze.

"It's wonderful when you first see it, but it gets boring after a while," she said with a sigh. "But not the angels," and now the sigh was different. "They're more special every time."

"Leave the fallen earth behind," insisted Celestino, as Erin and Etherea walked silently down the hall. The orchids began to close for the night.


* * *

Etherea brought her to the archway marked PRIVATE and then left with a bow. "It was a pleasure to meet such an accomplished scientist," Etherea told her before leaving. Her voice sounded just as recorded as Celestino's.

Erin was left alone for a moment to stand and take in the room. Everywhere she turned, she was confronted with the cloying atmosphere of Penumbra. The flowers and their pheromone-laced pollen were overwhelming. The walls were hung with tapestries, reproductions of the famous "Ars Erotica". There were no windows here, nowhere to look except the icons of lust and of gods, sometimes separated, sometimes combined. Uranus and Gaia fornicated on the carpet.

The doors slid open and she was called in. "Dr. Kostow," she heard, in a voice no longer familiar. "Please, enter." She stepped through and found herself in a room that reminded her of the disease control center she had passed through when she arrived on Colmenus. The walls were sheer, reflective metal, the floors dull gray concrete. Furniture was plastic, lighting bright and painful.

"Mr. Thomas," she said formally, as he got up from his desk. "This room doesn't fit your legend in the slightest."

She found herself looking at his eyes as they focused on her. They were different. Colorless. And they devoured her. She knew she wore the same expression when she studied geological phenomena and it was unsettling to have it turned back upon her. "Business and pleasure, doctor," he replied. "It's so easy to get them confused here." He leaned forward and took her arm in his golden hand. He kissed her cheeks then looked into her eyes. "I suppose it's not the same when your line of work is studying ecosystems," he said, grinning.

She tried to step back, but instead found herself pulled forward. "I apologize for the 'sthetic. I know how you naturalists hate them." He was leading her to a wall of screens. "But I couldn't just go out and greet you myself. I would be mobbed." He released her to straighten his formal blue robe. His long finger pointed toward the screens, but for a moment she just stared at his hand, his thin fingers, at the purple veins and tendons that bulged under the translucent skin. He smiled. "You're not so discreet, Erin. I'm not a rock or a river. I stare back." And his eyes caught her. He wasn't discreet either. Then he broke the gaze and flexed his hand for her. "Brand new," he said. "My stylist thinks the veins will start a new trend. What do you think, Erin?"

"As an ecologist?" she asked, her eyebrows arching, an impulse to smile fighting its way out. She forced it back into her memories.

"I didn't say 'Dr. Kostow,' did I? As a woman, a woman with, shall we say, peculiar tastes." Before she could answer, he turned away and began feeding information into a console.

"Peculiar tastes? Natural beauty can never be called peculiar, Mr. Thomas. Only the fleeting trends of humankind can be deemed such."

He waited a moment, then turned to face her. "I'd like it if you called me Collin," he replied. After a pause, he asked, "So?" He put his hand up again. "And spare me the propaganda: we're in private."

"I think your hands are intriguing. It fascinates me how past signs of starvation and old age can become a thing of fashion."

"It's easy for you to love natural beauty, Erin," his scented breath reached her. "Almost forty and you're still like a living, walking Colmenus."

She laughed. "Oh? I hadn't realized it was the gas I shot out and the insects crawling on me that interested you." He laughed softly too.

"Enough," he said, putting his hand on her shoulder. "You signed the confidentiality documents at the spaceport. Now you can see what you came here for." As he gestured once more to the screen, a bell chimed at his belt. He frowned slightly, then brushed his silver hair back from his face. "The feast," he told her. "Will you accompany me? They'll be flying tonight."

With a shudder, she accepted.


* * *

From the hallway she stared into the pavilion. Its wide marble floor was remarkably spare. It was decorated almost tastefully compared to the rest of Penumbra. A plain, semicircular table faced out toward the sheet-glass window. The whole of the room was oriented in that direction, staring out from this highest point of the aeropol into the sky. Milling about in the room, dressed in uniforms, or in the latest Cydonian fashions, were the thirty-five guests on Colmenus. She attracted stares from the moment they stepped through the door. Collin beside her was the paragon of style, his hair changed white, his skin golden, his eyes narrow, his body long and sleek in its robe. She, with her short, brown hair, faint wrinkles, and functional clothing looked all the paler, all the more unadorned. His jeweled bracelets sparkled beside her wrist-console. But people came to Colmenus, to Penumbra, to see one of nature's last great wonders. Collin had been right. To them, she must seem some sort of manifestation of the planet's character. A precursor to the coming angels. The crowd almost gasped.

"Welcome to Penumbra," Collin intoned. "Take your seats, please." The rich and elite of all the League filed toward their arranged places. Performer sat beside legislator, businessman beside artist. They sat to the music of Celestino's "Escape," the song responsible, in a way, for drawing these people to Colmenus. "Loves pass and memories die," Celestino warned them, "As we soar across the vermilion sky."

A seat had been reserved for her beside Collin, with a Paleolithic carving of an earth-goddess marking her place. He had known she would accept. She looked at Collin, behind his bust of Bacchus. She wondered what would have happened if she had refused. A 'sthetic behind her statue would have been quite a sight.

As they began the first courses, the sky finished separating into the reds and yellows of evening. There were fewer jets of gas. She stared out and didn't hear what was said around her. Anticipation was building. The conversations were forced, delicacies from a dozen worlds were eaten without a thought. Collin alone seemed excited not by the promise of the coming show, but by the gathering itself. She wasn't like that. She couldn't enjoy the present when the future loomed so large. She could see that it would be full-night soon. She watched as the layers of color began to melt together, heard the audience sigh.

"My God!" said a large woman seated behind Shiva. A look from Collin silenced her. Erin recognized the emblems of a Spaceforce admiral pinned on the front of the woman's blue suit. Collin had just stared down a woman who commanded a ship that could reduce Colmenus to dust.

And then she saw how.


* * *

Naked, her breaths coming in pants, her hand scraped from the fall, two days later, she would know in her mind that the decision had been made that night at the feast, as the first angel rose in the sky. And as she looked at Collin, at his trusting face, as she thought of the lives she had condemned, she would remember the way the angel had played in the light of the gases before succumbing to exhaustion and plummeting back to the honeycombed surface below. The scraping sound of claws on the stone was a release to her, but all Collin heard was her whispering in his ear.


* * *

There was no cheering or applause. Many people had tears in their eyes. The music had stopped. The food went unnoticed. Two more angels were rising, their bodies aglow, their six translucent wings shimmering new colors with their every frantic beat. As they flew, they stirred the gases around them and mixed them with their own exhaled breaths. Gold became now green, now blue, now a purple more magnificent than any legislator's sash, drawing in the red gas, now shifting to a rich rose . . . she was weeping too. Even Collin, who had seen them dance a thousand times, was entranced.

On and on they came, alone, in pairs, three at a time, their segmented bodies fragile, their four compound eyes curiously white amidst all the color. One by one they fell, after making beauty in the clouds around them. They were trying to come together, she knew, trying to join together, but they couldn't quite reach it. They were too young, too weak. She couldn't see them once they dropped below the floor of the pavilion, but she knew what followed. Knew, but couldn't think of it, couldn't bear to think of those gentle angels shattered on the rocks below.

Even after the last one had disappeared, their pattern remained in the sky around the aeropol. It took a great force of will to tear herself away from it and return to the plain world of banquets and celebrities.

Collin was smiling.


* * *

"You liked the show," he told her later. "Everyone does. No heart is cold enough to resist it." He rolled a fluted glass of honey liqueur in his hand. "It's beauty distilled. No drug can match it, no painting, no orgasm. It's heaven." The feast hall was empty except for the two of them, and the 'sthetics cleaning up. "Penumbra, the rest of it, is foreplay and denouement. The most beautiful 'sthetics, art, the most soothing music, engineered plants and animals, every luxury . . . it's nothing. But without it, their hearts would stop after the dance."

She didn't know what to say. Her convictions were hard-pressed and her morals intoxicated. "It was incredible," was all she got out.

"Stay with me tonight," he asked her, his voice different and yet more similar, as he laid his blue-streaked hand on her white wrist. "Be with me again."

She shook her head. Too much had changed. Too much was changing.

"It's best after you watch them," he whispered, his breath smelling like flowers.

She shook her head again and he smiled. "Tomorrow we'll start with business. Dream of them tonight. I'll have Etherea take you to your room."

The 'sthetic came to the table whistling "Escape." Collin looked at Erin and said, "Fly up to heaven with me." He only laughed when she hurried away.


* * *

She ignored every question Etherea asked, even ignored the girl when she said, "You really should try Mr. Thomas," as if he were the newest patch from Rexsol. She couldn't think of anything but the passionate death throes of the angels, of how they looked at one another, knowing that they were doomed. She thought of that, and of how she had been brought to Colmenus to make sure it all continued.

During her long trip aboard the pleasure-craft to Penumbra, she had read the information they had given her. She had read between the lines. She knew what they wanted, knew how they had almost totally sucked Colmenus dry of its beauty. But she couldn't accept it. All she knew was that she had just seen something unmatched on all the many worlds she had fought to preserve.

She couldn't fall asleep for fear of dreaming.


* * *

Morning only brought exhaustion. She dressed in a plain shirt and pants: her work clothes. She loaded the plan of the aeropol on her wrist-console and set out walking, ignoring both stares and comments, looking neither at statues nor passers-by.

"Dr. Kostow." She looked up, startled. The woman facing her was dressed in a white robe with gold trim. She held a complex console in a tanned hand. "I'm Anette Vern, one of the geologists here on Colmenus." The woman extended her free hand. Erin took it and smiled.

"I read some of your work on the way here. Very skillfully written, if somewhat lacking in objectivity." Erin leaned forward slightly and her eyes narrowed, but Dr. Vern merely laughed.

"Mr. Thomas funds my research on entropy chains," she chuckled. "Do you expect me to bite his hand?"

"Maybe bark a little," Erin frowned back. "The Steward, after all, pays your salary."

Anette's golden eyes sparkled cheerfully. "I've always respected your fighting spirit, Dr. Kostow." She smiled wider, leaned in to kiss Erin's cheek, and whispered, "Why do you think I recommended you?"

She sounded almost helpless.


* * *

The geologist brought her the rest of the way to the secure area of Penumbra, but upon entering, left to pursue her own work. Erin walked past consoles and the green-robed technicians who manned them, and was briefly impressed at the volume of geological, meteorological, and biological data being processed.

"It'll be boiled down for you," laughed Collin as he entered, looking well-rested and pleased.

"Oh? Not into the same report you fed the Steward, I trust." Her lips pursed.

"Of course not. You can understand things that would bore him." He stepped close and smelled like lilacs. "You didn't sleep well. I'd offer you a stim, but I know you'd turn it down." He stepped closer. "We'll be busy today. Follow me."

His robes swished as he turned.


* * *

The pupa was pushing blindly against the transparent wall of the enclosure. It mewled softly and scratched its fore-claws against the Plexiglas. "Note the white lesions along its side, Dr. Kostow," said the technician. "Those are new today."

But the scene didn't interest her. She was looking at the figures that ran along the screen at the corner of the enclosure. "Those don't match surface level conditions," she replied. "No wonder it's suffering."

"They live below the surface," Collin corrected her. She frowned for a moment, then reviewed the information once more.

"What else haven't you told me?"

He merely smiled. "I know how you hate holos, Erin, but please, bear with me?" He didn't wait for an answer, but instead turned to a huge screen on the wall and flipped a switch. "And now, off comes the blindfold."

The screen displayed a shaky image of the surface of Colmenus. Its red rock face was pitted and scarred. Deep fissures hissed with released steam and gas. A crew of six figures, dressed in protective suits and breathing masks, slowly lowered a device into one of the holes.

The machine was fitted with a drill bit and a number of hooks. On its rear was a large dish, covered with tiny nodules. Once it was fully inserted into the hole, the image on the screen switched to a view from the nose of the drill. The device clacked and scraped its way deeper and deeper, until it reach a solid, white barrier.

"I see," Erin commented. "So this is how you extracted the specimen in the enclosure. Your point?"

Collin said nothing back as the drill punctured the wall. It passed through, revealing a chamber filled with angel grubs. "The incubator is cooled, otherwise they would be attracted by the heat and would tear it apart," a technician explained. The drill held still for a moment. The grubs were close to hatching, Erin could tell, close to breaking free and flying. Suddenly a shrill sound came from the incubator and the dish glowed hot and bright. The grubs awoke and erupted, filling the chamber with colored gas. A view from the surface showed pale, premature angels flying upward. The holo ended.


* * *

In another room, Collin explained it to her. "Mature angels," he said with a shake of his head. "No one cares about them."

Erin remembered the images she had seen of the dark, leathery things, flying into the upper atmosphere where they would clutch each other and fall earthward, sharing lives and genes as they went. She now understood what happened next. The information fit together. The larvae would crawl out from the smashed bodies and enter the nearest crevice, erect a protective wall and mature, ingesting Colmenus's minerals and waiting until they were ready. When they were strong enough, they would seek out heat and follow it, burrowing through whatever lay in their path until they reached the air, until they could fly again. The cycle of life and death was beautiful poetry to her, a perpetual machine fed only by the sun's warmth.

"There are no 'changing climatological conditions,' are there, Mr. Thomas?" she asked coldly. Yet it was she who shivered.

"Only the winds of fortune," he replied. "And please, call me Collin: we're friends." They were alone in the room. "Now you know our little secret here, or at least part of it."

"You disgust me."

"You're under contract."

"I didn't know this perversion was happening." But she was lying. Staring out onto Colmenus from space, seeing its shimmering, multicolored stratosphere, she knew that Collin had planned something, had done something. She knew that only rot could exude the sweet smell of Penumbra.

"Now you do," he replied.

"Why couldn't you be satisfied with the angels that naturally flew early? There were enough of them to inspire Celestino."

He smiled. "I run a business here. A business that promises a show. I give them ANGELS, Erin, week after week."

"It won't last much longer."

"Not as things are going," he admitted with a shrug. "They can't get high enough to spawn. But the show must go on, somehow. You are my somehow, Erin." He crossed the space between them and put his avant-garde hands on her shoulders.

"Never," she said, pulling away. "To hell with you and your money and your show. I'll cancel the contract and pay the price."

"And leave the angels to extinction?" His fingers clutched her. "The great savior of endangered worlds?"

She slumped slightly. "Just let them be and they'll live."

"Why? Let the Legislature make it a Sanctuary when I die. But as long as I live, Colmenus is mine. And I intend to live and live and live. Money can buy longevity. So they, too, must live, Erin, so that they can die to earn me more life. It's one of your perfect systems, isn't it?" His face was very close to hers and his skin looked smooth as plastic.

"What do you think I can do?" she asked.

He handed her a console. "We know there is a place, down under the surface, that is the key. It's where the burst fissures open. We KNOW it exists, know the slow pupae fall down there before they can fly, but the fissures collapse before we can search them. Hundreds of grubs fall there, thousands. Down where it is just a bit too cool for them to stir. They're sleeping, Erin, dreaming of flying. I need you to help me find them. With just the slightest warmth, they'll awaken."

"For one last finale?"

"No. They'll fly free, mate, and die. And they'll leave behind enough children for years to come. We've almost perfected the art of keeping them in captivity."

He suddenly took his hands away. "Go back to your room. Look at the information. Decide what you want. But remember what's at stake, Erin."

She turned and walked to the doorway. "I was always impressed with you at the university, Collin, before you stripped yourself away."

She left him with a strange look on his face.


* * *

Almost twenty years earlier, she looked up from her notes and out the window at the tree-lined path that led to the university's massive ecology center. In the darkness, only the path and the trees could be seen. The lawns beyond were past the reach of the lighting. She heard Collin stir beside her on the bed, but she didn't look back. The symbolism of the window's view wasn't lost on her. She deserved its promise.

"Come back," Collin muttered into the pillow. She finally turned and saw him, pale, shivering slightly without sheets. "There's enough time tomorrow for ecology."

She sighed and looked once more into the night. She was full of energy and waited for the dawn.


* * *

She was tossing in her bed again. She had looked at the figures, at the topographies. She understood them. They were unassailable.

On the door to her room was Eve, the apple half-eaten in her hand, the serpent wrapped around her naked thigh. Lucifer fell from heaven on the ceiling, looking exhausted and full of shame. She still held the console in her hand, but she couldn't look at it any more. It flashed its images unseen in the warm glow of her room, while she suddenly became still.

Was it better to let the angels live as slaves? Why should they have the freedom she lacked? Who wasn't a slave to some system that lay just beyond their sight?

She thought of the four eyes of the first angel she had seen. She remembered how it looked into the pavilion. She imagined it would have wept, if tears had any meaning to a creature of beauty and color and life denied.

She slept because her body demanded it.


* * *

The next morning she walked alone down the halls to the laboratories. She was stopped, briefly, by a fat man wearing a tight green suit with a purple sash. "Erin Kostow, isn't it?" he asked. "Working for Mr. Thomas?"

She nodded curtly.

"And we don't even use silver any more," he laughed. "Did he give you thirty credits then?" He smiled and continued on his way. She stared for a long time out the window, past the luxury of the hallway, past the statues, into the still, blue clouds. It was still early and the gas had not yet begun to change the sky to its famous hues. She stared and wondered and let guests and 'sthetics pass around her.


* * *

"Erin," he said, taking her hand in his. "I hope you thought carefully about this?" He looked into her eyes. She couldn't look back. His dark hair hung limply down on his forehead. She knew his face would be flushed, his eyes red. "Just don't leave me without being sure."


* * *

"Erin," he said, kissing her cheek. "I knew what you would decide." She looked at his still, gray eyes and bit back a retort. "You love your symbiotic lifeforms, don't you? Here we are: me with my money and my angels, you with your knowledge. We're still halves of a . . ."

She put her hand up. "Stop it, Mr. Thomas." She turned away. "Don't do this to me." She swallowed and doubted herself. She almost said, "Please," but history wouldn't allow it.

Collin's voice changed. "Very well, Dr. Kostow. You reviewed the information I gave you?"

She nodded and turned back to him. His hair was pulled back tightly against his scalp, and his face seemed almost stretched. "I think I can find your cavern," she said. "But I don't have enough here. I need to go down to the surface."

He nodded and smiled. "Then we'll go," he said simply.

"We?"

"I've led every mission we've sent down, Dr. Kostow."

She nodded and closed her eyes. She could smell his newest cologne. She didn't even notice the others in the room. "We'll go down today?" She opened her eyes.

"Today. We'll find them and then leave. The open tunnel will let enough heat in that they'll awaken when night falls. Angels will mate tonight, Erin, and we'll watch them. Together, Erin."


* * *

She was walking back to her room when she ran into Dr. Vern. "Dr. Kostow," she said, with a pleading look on her face. "I heard you were going down to the surface after all?"

"Yes."

"Just remember why I recommended you, please! Remember who you are!"

Erin breathed in through her nostrils and felt rage fill her lungs. But for a moment she did not reply. The orchids around them were closing. Night was coming. "Do you really think Mr. Thomas cared about your recommendation?" she said. Her voice betrayed her.

Anette smiled and said, "I imagine you're one of those people who thinks you're loved for your mind." She laughed. Erin watched her as she left.


* * *

The shuttle trembled as it descended and rattled with the changing pressure. "Is it really the angels that you care about, Collin?" she asked. The two of them were alone, dressed in the thin, tight survival suits used for surface missions.

At the sound of her voice speaking his name, Collin flinched and widened his eyes. But before Erin noticed his reaction, he composed himself and replied, "What do you think, Erin?" His voice was oddly distorted by the oxygen mask.

"I think you have enough money to last you a lifetime, no matter how long you want it to be." Her breath was even louder through the filters.

"You really think that's all that matters to me? The money?" He was fixed on the controls, carefully balancing the lift and thrust. She didn't answer. She looked down out the Plexiglas floor and saw the ground slowly rise up.

"I didn't use to. But . . ."

The craft shuddered to a stop. Collin opened the hatch and stepped out. The red earth outside looked harsh. Small, black crystals lay sprinkled across her view. "Careful with the shards," he warned her softly. She followed him out. "Your lead from here Dr. Kostow. I'm in your hands."

She had wanted something more, somehow.


* * *

It was twenty years ago, and the news of the great victory at Pluto somehow didn't make either of them smile. "Well then," said Collin, turning his palms up. They had been together on his bed when his console had exploded into a symphony of bells and whistles. He was naked and so was she. An ancient, bound copy of Deveraux's "The Dignity of Sovereign Humanity" lay open on his desk. Beside the boldfaced news on the screen were the notes for his essay on Weber. "I guess it's settled." He looked at her lying on the bed.

"Please," she said, "don't say it that way."

"How should I say it?" he asked, earnestly. He stood, and seemed carved from marble in the faint light of the console screen. "What use is this?" He grabbed the tome then closed in gently. "What use?"

"They'll restore Earth, Collin. They'll make it livable. They'll undo the harm the Union has caused over the . . ."

"They'll make it an Eden," he said, ruefully. "Just so that they can throw man out again." He smiled at her and ruined all the happy memories his smile held. "The Union had a dream, at least, if not the wealth to achieve it."

They argued the same argument that had lasted a year, but for what? Sol was fallen. She left him alone in his room and told him good-bye. He left the university a few days later, but told her nothing.


* * *

They were going toward the heart of Colmenus, through one of its many arteries. The temperature was cooling down into the 20s and was comfortable.

They didn't even hear the rumbling until the floor had already given way. Dust sprayed up around them as they struck the bottom of the new tunnel. Erin realized she had lost a glove in the fall, felt her suit tear. But she would be fine in the tunnels as long as she had her mask.

She saw Collin digging his way out of the rubble. He was smiling. "I miss my old hands," he said with a laugh.

"How are we going to get out?" She had forgotten for the moment the rift that lay between them.

"I can call Rescue and Retrieval at any time." He was still smiling. She couldn't stop herself from smiling back. "Onward and inward?" he asked.

She nodded and started forward.

"Wait," she heard.

She paused.

"Do you really think it's the money?"

"No," she answered.

"What then?"

"Me," she sighed, but didn't turn to face him. "You want to prove you can break me like I broke you, twenty years ago."

He laughed gently, but still she couldn't turn.

"Broke me? Don't you see what I've done here? Break me!" His voice was rising. "Oh Erin, look with your ecologist's eyes! I've brought them all together, here in this fertile environment, generals and officials, artists and scientists, and common 'sthetics. They all mingle and share in the unifying beauty. Don't you see?" And finally she turned and looked in his gray eyes.

"I see, Collin."

He stared back at her, full of love and trust.

"It's just a bit further," she said.

They hurried on at a jog.


* * *

The chamber was huge and filled with unborn angels. They lay sleeping in huddled masses, razor-claws and crushing mandibles unmoving. Some were surely dead: crushed by the fall or the weight of others upon them, but others, so many others, still alive. "Look," she panted, pointing.

"Tell me you believe me," Collin almost begged. Through the milky glass of his mask, his tanned face seemed almost pale.

"Believe what, Collin?"

"All of it!" He had his old voice, full of real passions. "When I die, the Legislature will take this all, make it a Sanctuary that no one will ever see. But people need to see! They have to! We need a new dream to wake us up from this nightmare."

"Have you ever watched an angel fall?" she said softly. "Have you looked at the decadence smeared across your resort?"

"Please, Erin. I finally found something. I've finally done something, just like you have! Please, Erin, tell me you believe in me?" His mask was fogged over. That made it easier. His voice sounded strange through the electronics, full of electrical hisses and pops, but more than all that, full of a decades-old desperation.

She had made her choice when the first angel gave up its hopeless flight and stopped reaching for heaven. All the emotions of humanity couldn't change that. She stepped close to him and took his hands in hers. She looked over her shoulder one last time at the cruel appendages of the pupae. She turned back and his mask had cleared. She looked him in the eyes and slowly began to remove her suit.


* * *

They lay on their suits, masks pressed close, bodies joined together, sweating together, fulfilling dreams, making love, making life, awakening old memories and sleeping angels.


* * *

If angels embrace,
Total they mix, union of pure with pure
Desiring; nor restrained conveyance need
As flesh to mix with flesh.

-- John Milton, "Paradise Lost"




Story © 2002 by Mark R. Yohalem mry@alum.dartmouth.org

Illustration © 2002 by Georgi Ostashov georgi@home13.net




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