Saturday, 2 October 2010

Chapter Thirty-Five

Angelina Rose was afraid that the whole thing might spin out of control. She was a woman who prided herself on her ability to adapt. In fact, it was this very ability that kept her hovering on the brink of life, at the edge of an abyss, when many others had lost their footing and plummeted into a new frame of reference.
She knew what energy was. She knew that consciousness was immortal. Death was only an inevitable change of form, a discarding of the symbols of physical reality. But she didn’t want that change just yet. She had so much more to do, so much more to take. There were indescribable fruits to be picked from the vines of reason, and she would do so before stepping through the door.
A part of her was aware that she was afraid, of what might await beyond death. Not the fantasy that many called Hell, no, but a wildness, a cruelty that she would have to face when she was finally plunged into the realms of abstract Self.
She wanted to live, for as long as possible. Interregnum taught her that possibility was infinite, bound only by the extent of the imagining consciousness. She would imagine grandly then, if it would stave off the inevitable.
Miss Rose was sitting alone, in a circular room lit by narrow spotlights that illuminated paintings and tapestries ringing the walls. She glanced up at a section of stone, affixed to a standing plinth in the centre of the oak table at which she sat.
The stone was from a tomb that was been unearthed in Iraq during the first wave of the so-called ‘War on Terror’, excavated by a group of Islamic scholars, and hidden. A ‘cosmopolitan’ seeker-cell operating thirteen miles north of Basra had been tipped off about its existence. The group of thirty or so Muslims had been massacred in a joint British-American stalking. The precious section of stone had been retrieved and shipped to New York. Eventually, after much Interregnum deliberation, it had been shipped to Britain. To here in London, where it rightfully belonged.
Many among them came to believe the stone tomb was that of a young priest, but there had been no care for the dead, only dust remained. The inscriptions on the stone were a rudimentary type of ancient Sumerian cuneiform, dating back four and a half thousand years at least, translated again and again by Interregnum affiliates, in the hope that the full meaning of the inscriptions could be known to them.
She had memorised the latest translation. She knew it by heart, if indeed she still possessed such a thing. Sometimes she wondered. The inscriptions spoke of something called a scarlet council, that secretly controlled every aspect of Sumerian society, and of a great change that fragmented the priesthood. This monumental change had been translated by various Interregnum linguists as ‘Chamber of Soul’, as ‘Shell of Voices’, and most recently as ‘Pathlight’.
Many believed that the nameless young priest had somehow sealed himself inside the tomb, that perhaps he had even carved it himself. The legend and the way it was told by those among Interregnum was deeply disturbing.
Miss Rose knew only a portion of Interregnum’s true lineage, but she knew enough. Her imagination, vital as it was, had filled in the rest. Popular reasoning presented the history of Mankind as a wealth of unconnected wars, tribulations and revelations. Reality, however, didn’t conform to such anthropological reductionism.
Nothing was unbroken, only believed to be.
The truth of Man was interconnected, a seamless gestalt of carefully hidden and guarded truths. There were groups that frequently killed to protect the occult history of the world, and these were often groups with far less power than Interregnum.
Man was only useful to other men if the truth was withheld from them, far from the eyes of the majority and shared with a select few. Angelina Rose was one of these chosen, and even she knew merely a fraction of that illusive truth. Oh, how men lusted after knowledge, especially when they suspected it came from a divine source. She had seen it so many times. Men would give their lives; they would trade this confusing world for a knowledge of it that would be useless to them in death.
She laughed emptily at the thought, remembering when she had once been the same. Her parents didn’t believe that she would survive past her first birthday, and then she had lived on a respirator for many years. She suffered every indignity; injected, probed, tested endlessly. Often times she had cried herself to sleep, wondering why the universe had picked her out as a precarious genetic anomaly. Or a ‘freak’, as other children had succinctly put it.
And then one day her biological father, who was a high-ranking military analyst, introduced her to the man that had changed her life forever.
Clarence Miller.
He was a doctor; a brilliantly gifted surgeon, cardiologist and psychologist. He had been all over the world. He had spent several decades in East Africa, the slums of India and Pakistan, South America. Third world countries were perfect places for illegal human research; what was often referred to by intelligence circles as wet-testing. Through years of biological and psychological wet-testing, Dr Clarence Miller had secretly shaped the next fifty years of Black-Light science. To the ‘Eating-Tree’ ghost-ops researchers of NSA and MI6, Miller was an enigma. He was on par with Dr Emil Petrov for revolutionary breakthroughs.
Oh, but he was so much more than that; an Interregnum associate, possessing a science bathed in his unique imagination, a science bordering on magic. One of the true pioneers of Black-Light research. He was something of an urban-myth in many intelligence circles; nobody with a clearance below ‘Eating-Tree’ even knew what he looked like. There were no known photographs of the man and lower level analysts even doubted that he existed. But he did exist. And Clarence Miller was his real name.
He was, quite simply, her guardian angel, her very own Merlin. After her biological father’s suicide, Miller had taken her in and raised her as his own daughter. She had lived with him for five years in Paris, and then another six years in Moscow. She had a love for him that surpassed all else. He was a god to her, this spiritual father, for he had given her the greatest gift imaginable.
He had given her Strength. Courage. Power. And she was proud to be his greatest achievement; a singular human being, unique, unlike all others…even Rebecca Cole and her sisterhood. But good things, just like bad things, came to an inevitable end. She was slowly dying.
She’d been dying since age thirteen.
She touched many since then, in the hope she would find someone that would grant her another year, another five years, another decade. None of them had measured up. She had taken from them, regardless – hungry and needful, but aware that it wouldn’t sate her. Even the other spirals like Prayer, they hadn’t been enough and, because of their constitution, she didn’t dare take from them. But Prayer would be different. She was the heart of all this, the nexus that connected. If she could touch Prayer, Miss Rose knew that it would be enough. She would take and take and take, until all that remained of the girl was an exquisite husk.
If only she’d known beforehand.
“Fuck…” she hissed, picturing Dr Katherine Reece in her mind’s eye. The woman had complicated everything in trying to protect the girl. If Miss Rose had known beforehand that Prayer was a harbinger she would have realised that the girl would be the key. “The key to my heart,” she murmured.
It was then that her cell phone began ringing. She pulled it from her coat pocket and stared at the Caller ID. It was Wesley Morgan. She put the phone to her ear, a grin spreading across her white face.
“Wes?”
She could hear a soft moaning, and then, “Oh, God, no…” A heavy thud, like someone collapsing to the ground. A softer, almost ethereal moaning.
“Wes, baby…answer me,” she said into the phone, “What’s happening? Wes!”
There was no reply, just a soft, laboured breath. And then finally no breath at all. She sat alone in the Artefacts Wing, at the oak table, staring at the ancient stone on the plinth at it’s centre, the cell phone pressed to her ear. She couldn’t lose him too. What if her blood wasn’t enough? A wave of fear went through her, and then a wave of anger. And finally a wave of deep, black hatred. There was only one thing she could think to do.
Trembling, she dialled Dr Clarence Miller’s number, and waited.
“Yes?”
“Daddy,” she whispered quietly into the phone, “It’s me…”
“Are you okay, precious?”
“It’s all going to hell; I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing.”
“Just tell me, Angel, what’s wrong?”
“I think Wesley Morgan is dead; I think Katherine is there now, and I can’t lose him. I won’t be able to go on if I lose him…”
“You were lovers?” her father asked after a moment. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“Some things are private, daddy. It wasn’t supposed to happen, but…then I saw the way his mind worked, how he was always three steps ahead…top of his game…and it reminded me of me. Like he was my other half. That same intelligence…that same coiled patience that you gave me; I saw it all in him. He was like a black python.”
She heard him chuckle widely at the description, “I’ll bet he was.”
“Daddy, I won’t forgive myself if he’s dead.”
“Don’t worry,” her father said, “You had sex with him. His biochemistry has metastasised. As I’m sure you know. He’s different now; it’d take a serious injury to cripple him. Did you seduce him, naughty girl, with offers of godlike power?”
“Yeah, I guess I did,” she said quietly. “Are you mad at me?”
“No, precious. Life is for living, so relax. He’ll be fine. I’ll call Switchboard and assign a Tracer to Katherine. Now, Angel, is that it? You know how important my time is. You can handle this. You haven’t forgotten your motto have you?”
Angelina Rose smiled, teary-eyed and white-faced. “No, daddy…I haven’t.”
“Well, let’s here it then.”
For a few moments she was silent, and then, softly, “Fly my pretties, fly.”
“Lets hear it with a little gumption, baby.”
A sad smile tweaked her pale lips. “Fly my pretties, fly!”
“And again for all the Rock & Rollers in the audience!”
She laughed darkly and bellowed, “FLY MY PRETTIES, FLY!”
She heard the sound of her father’s warm laughter. “There you go, Angel, you see? As simple as A B C.”
“Okay,” she said quietly, only a little more reassured.
“Listen, precious…when you’ve acquired the girl, I’ll meet you at Branton. I have a surprise for you. Trust me, it’ll be better than anything before.”
“Okay, Dr Miller,” she murmured. “Can’t wait.”
“Love you, Miss Rose.”
“Love you too, daddy.”
And then he was gone. With a sudden cry, she hurled her cell phone at the Sumerian stone and it burst in two, microchips and circuits scattering across the table. Without Rebecca Cole she would die. She didn’t want to die. She pressed her lips together, trembling softly, and stared down at her ghost-white hands.
“I’m a monster…” she murmured, terribly afraid.

***

The Tracer was about to board a train at Victoria Station, on a visit to see her cousin in Sheffield, when she was contacted, bag packed, standing amongst other travellers looking up at the timetables. She glanced down at the pager on her hip. EDIT. A flush of uncertainty went through her. Her train was boarding on Platform 9 in six minutes.
“You got to be kidding me,” she murmured and snatched the pager from her belt. “Talk about great fucking timing…”
She was a tall brunette, maybe twenty pounds overweight, wearing designer glasses, still very attractive with the extra pounds, dressed in jeans and a black sweater beneath a khaki army-surplus jacket. Twenty-five years old, still single, and she hadn’t seen her cousin in ages. She wouldn’t get a chance tonight. She couldn’t turn down an edit.
Once confirmed, they would immediately transfer an electronically laundered fifteen thousand into her account. It was a standard wage, regardless of the sensitivity. She knew official contracts got paid far more than that per head. She didn’t really care. The money would be a great help. When she was done tonight she could go to the theatre, or buy herself a few tubs of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, in celebration. She could even go on holiday again; catch a flight the day after tomorrow. She’d been to Barbados for the summer and had met a gorgeous bartender. He might still be around.
She laughed at her predicament, standing there with her packed bag. She pocketed the pager and pulled a sleek mobile phone from her jacket, dialled ‘Switchboard’ and spoke to someone who gave her a name and a description. They knew her location at all times, able to track her through her mobile phone via satellite, which meant she happened to be the Tracer nearest to the given location.
“Sorry, Dave,” she muttered to herself, “But work is work.”
She hurried from Victoria Station, across the open bus terminal, bag slung across her shoulder. As she moved, most of her irritation began to leave her. She quickly warmed to the idea of an edit. She could always go to see her cousin tomorrow or the day after that. She hadn’t killed anyone in nearly eight months, and the familiar power-tripping excitement began to creep back inside.
Tracers were usually young and lethal, notoriously unpredictable, as the best of stand-ins always were.
They must be in something of a tight spot to use one.
She found that amusing. Maybe it was the luxury of youth, but she found a lot of things amusing. She never expected that this would be the life she led. Two lives really; her normal life, as a clerical nurse in the TA…and then the life of the Maiden Hand. Her real life, she supposed.
In her teens she had been the cute weird girl; the one that got ‘fed’ quite often by boys who found her strangely alluring but sort of pitied her, the girl who was forced to be witty and dark; the seventeen year old who played piano, was a semi-professional archer and marksman with a near perfect aim. The other girls at Sacred Heart had been jealous, she supposed, and disturbed by her unwavering focus.
Then, one day, during her first year of university at London Metropolitan, she was approached by a tall, bald black woman who introduced her to another world. A world she always secretly believed was real. As it turned out, her father had known about these things all along. As a Sister she had received the singular light. She was born again. Hallelujah. The Maiden Hand connected her with her true creativity, quickly made her a believer.
She had no crippling insecurities these days. She took what she wanted.
Life was a work in progress, a work of Art. She considered herself a sexy, edgy contradiction. She loved being a nurse, being a healer, and she loved her few precious friends, but behind her DKNY glasses, behind her steely, intelligent eyes, lived the soul of a born Tracer.

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