| An Angel Cycle Story |

At some point, his life had become untenable. The exact time was impossible to pin down; it eluded him, looked at from the cesspit of the now. Then sliding out to lose focus as he narrowed in, then slipping out from under the mental finger of his memory in quicksilver elusion as the pressure came down on it. There was a time before when Randall was alive, and a time after when he was dead. The moment he'd slipped over wasn't important to anyone but him - and since he was dead, it was important to no one at all.

The cold beat at him; the wind laughed at him, and the pain just sat there chewing slowly with needle sharp teeth.

He looked up from the sidewalk. Legs passed him by, their owners not looking, his invisibility secure. Snow swirled about his own immobile limbs and the thin cheap blanket that draped them, settling to the earth and onto the huddled shape he made without melting, for his body had no heat to spare. There was no change in the cup that sat before him. There was no food in the bag next to him. There were no warmer clothes in the pack behind him.

Half imagined, as he moved a leg, there was a slight crackling tinkle of his flesh protesting, beginning to freeze. The pain was fading, an inert gas swirling in to take its place. A bad sign, that, but not one Randall could do much about.

There really was only one way out of this that he could think of. Options were as few as his resources now, the brain slowing down as well, giving up sugars across his skin to the air. The problem was that it would require him to get up and expend energy, energy he wasn't sure he had. Ice crystals were accumulating on his beard, a scraggly growth of three or four months caked with dirt and frozen saliva. Fortunately it was easier to just sit here.

The subway might be warmer.

That's what old Norm had said, before vanishing some weeks before. The subway. Transit, they were calling it now, the enormous stylized iconic T appearing on the entrance stairs and kiosks. The City was still run from Underground; strange plumes of steam still issued from the streets on the whims of unknown gods of utility and chaos. Random gratings kept themselves clear of snow, which meant that somewhere underground it must be warm.

Struggling, Randall say up, gathering his limbs about him as one might gather possessions; they had no feeling other than a vague sense of belonging.

Just like he once had.

Tears came then, despite the thirst and the biting air; their salt preventing them from freezing long enough for the tracks down his face to burn cold with their passage. Belonging. He had. His memory was vague; there was so much missing, now, stolen by the cold, the hunger, and by the alcohol. Brain cells dying in flourescent illusions of warmth, liver failing slowly under the barrage of of ethanol and god knows what.

Sometimes, when he tried quite hard for long enough, he could see faces. Three of them. One was Natalia. One was Edwin. One was Kelly. Wife, son, daughter, faces, illusions dangles before him in the miasma of starvation dreams and post-alcoholic toxicity. It had been so warm. So warm there on the beach.

Golden sand that beckoned them; warmed their feet and relaxed their muscles as the four of them laid out the blanket, eating before subsiding into the lazy nap of a post-prandial afternoon. He woke to screaming (unknownst to him, he moaned now, saliva dropping from his beard as he stared past the hurrying commuters who paid him scant notice). Rolling off the blanket, he'd seen Ed thrashing in the surf some meters out, his face blotched and distorted. Kelly, smaller and younger, nine years to Ed's twelve, was running through the surf towards him, and their mother was halfway to the water.

Randall lurched upright out of sleep with the cold shock of fear for his son and loped after Natalia. Edwin vanished beneath the water with nary a sound, his screaming cut off, as Kelly suddenly screamed herself and fell sideways, sliding impossibly swiftly out towards the ocean.

Rip tide, was all Randall had time to think, before Natalia threw herself into the water as well. His thoughts stopped, then, the cold impact of salt sea enveloping him, paralyzing him for a moment. When he cleared his eyes, he could feel the surging rush of the tide propelling him back up the beach. Edwin's head was barely visible, meters out; his struggling was weaker. Of Kelly there was no sign. Natalia surfaced; she'd always been the strongest swimmer of the family, and she stroked smoothly for her children.

Randall felt the tides pause, and his feet hit sand. He turned to gauge distance, hoping to avoid the main rush of the ebb.

He never saw the branch that hit him in the head.

He never saw his family again.

Waking to the gray ceiling of the ambulance, seen through the distortion of the oxygen mask, Randall called for Nat and the children, ignoring the sudden flare of pain. There was a hissing, pushing the world away, light sliding under itself as the water had - sand grains twirling in heretofore crystal space, obscuring the view. Randall could see them spinning in from the edges of his vision as the light receded down the spectrum from blue to green and down into deeper jade and into black, before there was nothing-

-and then he was on the street, shivering, sniffling, hating the dream, wanting to die.

They wouldn't let him. He had begged and pleaded, but they were inflexible. They restrained him when he fought, drugged him when he withdrew, jolted him when he sank into catatonia.

Then he was free, in his home, turning over a cheap ring that Kelly had given him on the way to the beach - a single crystal set in some plated metal.

His family was still dead.

The pain wasn't locatable inside him. He just knew that the Scotch would find it; the warmth went everywhere, didn't it? It did. The pain retreated slightly before its onslaught, and he drank another.

And another.

And another.

It took five more months for the safety nets to fail; the family to stop answering the calls from emergency services, the friends to stop opening their doors, and the doctors to look at his empty bank account and lapsed insurance and gently shake their heads.

When, in the end, he found himself on the street, he cried wth perverse joy; his utter loneliness meant that there was no one left to stop him in his headlong descent.

The alcohol was there for him. He remembered being amazed at how easily one could procure a drink even when flat broke and homeless; in a brief moment of clarity, Randall wryly noted that his standards were sinking at a rate possibly even faster than his finances. As he swilled the dregs from a bottle found in a dumpster he would have laughed, but there was no room through the pain.

He'd kept it at bay. He seemed about to finally triumph; with the cold and the sleet and the wind as his allies, he'd achieved a numbness of body. Soon there would come a blackness of mind to match his blackness of spirit, and he could stop walking, acknowledge that he was dead, and it would all be over. Soon.

His body, beggar traitor, betrayed him. Not yet. Randall felt himself struggle to his feet and stagger off down the block. Raising his head, he could see the brightly lit Transit sign, but try as he might, his feet would not turn aside, nor would his legs throw him down.

At the base of the steps, he shuffled over to the turnstile, praying that he wouldn't have the strength to climb over it. The gate buzzed, and old, old reflexes fired; he caught it, pulled it open. Looking over at the booth, the tinted glass dimmed but did not hide the clerk giving him a sympathetic smile. It seemed rude to offer her the angry, anguished scream he felt; his face smiled weakly back and he shuffled on inside.

The platform was warm. It was dry.

His eyes sought the third rail, killer of his youth, but there was none on the new system. There was only the procession of stolid induction rings, and the everpresent grime of the urban underworld. Tears began to flow down his cheeks again. A light grew at the end of the platform as the Transit capsule began to enter the station.

He was perhaps one-fifth of the length of the platform along from the tunnel exit. Although shorter than the trains they had replaced, the capsules ran more frequently; occasionally they stopped in the station in strings of two or more, their induction fields hissing slightly as they hovered over the floor of the tunnel with maglevs humming.

One fifth of the way.

The capsule was still moving at perhaps five or ten meters per second.

Randall smiled as he felt himself step forward into air.

Then there was blackness, blessedly, and the pain vanished.



No response.

"Ed? Kel? I'm here..." Randall coughed. realizing his eyes were closed, he did the only logical thing and opened them. His first feeling was deep, biting disappointment.

He was lying on the floor of the Transit tunnel. The capsule was nowhere in sight, nor were any stations visible. The rings in the area were silent. He sat up.

There was a boy sitting against the ring across from him. He was clad in leather pants and a leather jacket with an amazing quantity of metal studs embedded in it. Despite the gloom, he wore a large pair of mirrored sunglasses. His arms were crossed. He appeared to be watching Randall, so Randall addressed him.

"I'm not dead?"

The boy grinned, teeth shockingly white, and shook his head.

"Damn." Randall felt the sobs come, and gave in; he lowered his head down to the ground again, letting it fall the last few centimeters and relished the pain. His sinuses clogged instantly, and tears ran from his eyes down his temples to drop from his earlobes.

There was a pat on his leg. He looked up, wiping his eyes clear.

The boy had moved to kneel at his side, looking down at him. As Randall sniffled, wiping his eyes again, the other extended a hand towards his forehead. He had time to see a brief flash of actinic light and reflection, a silver flare-

...with all the reasons gone defenses gone desires gone the Randall that was blew away in fragments, shards, wisps of dusty uselessness under the cold pure light that shone upon him, he couldn't look up, he had to look up, he looked - there was nothing, just a glare and a sharp sudden pain in his fingers which he couldn't see but the glare was beating on his eyelids and then there was the sound of bass drums and imagination crashing up against the flat granular plane of reality as he watched the web curve around him in helical shapes of dreams and nightmare before the boy, Shan, he knew, Shan Shan Shan, removed his hand and the Silver flowed out back with it and the web was there and it was solid under him and he was sitting against the wall, naked as a newborn and feeling only the grit beneath his feet and the pain in his hands.

He looked down. There was a small crystal in his hands, attached to a small circle of cheap metal; he'd been clutching it, and the crystal edges had drawn some small amount of blood. Kelly. The name came unbidden, and came alone; the pain had gone. He stood without pain, without cramp; he looked down, to see his skin smooth and unwrinkled, the wrack of past months gone. Kelly? he called inside, within himself; he heard an answer, wordless and laughing. Tears began again, different ones, now. Nat? Ed? They called back as well, in soundless cries; he could point to them now. He knew where they were.

The boy tugged his arm, his face questioning. Randall felt the tears falling on his skin and said, "I know where they are now. I can feel where they are."

The boy touched his chest with one hand, palm out; there was a flash of silver thought. Testing it in his mind, closing his eyes, Randall saw the endless plain of the ocean, blue and ruffled; this time, however, he could hear the laughter of his family from beyond it. He knew where he was. His being was knowing that; knowing where, knowing the water. Memories from his history came to him unbidden, showing him the instrument that measured the span of his world.


The word was alien. The boy shrugged. Randall smiled through his tears and made the image of the tool, touched the boy; he was rewarded with a grin and nod. The boy tapped his chest again.

"That's me?"

Another nod.


The boy took both his hands and brought his face close to Randall's - no, to Theole's, Theole realized, and then pointed to the ground. Theole looked down to see a rivulet of water passing beneath his feet, runoff down the tunnel.

He scooped up a bit of it in his palms.

It called to him of the ocean. He knew where the water was in relation to the ocean; where his family was. He could feel the connection to them in the water resting in his hands, and with a sudden effort to hold them there in his mind forever he closed his hand about the water. There was a flash the color of the ocean on a sunny day from high above; a crack of displaced space and air, and when he opened his hand-

There lay a small shape, the water within the clear smooth shell, sealed in; he could still feel his family laughing and calling to him through the glasslike substance that held the water in him palm. It was glowing blue.

"Theole of the Blue."

The boy grinned again, the cocked an ear; nodding, he leapt to the nearest induction ring and scaled its edge. He waved Theole back. The latter moved to the wall, hearing nothing, but soon a slash of light from down the tunnel moved across him and he understood. He sheltered the phial with his body, watching; as the Capsule passed, the boy - Shan - dropped from the ring and vanished in its wake with a flaring of Silver and color. Although Theole felt nothing but the wind of its passage, his hand warmed. When he looked down, the phial was glowing brightly, deeply, impossibly blue.

Regarding it thoughtfully, he wandered off into the tunnel in search of clothing, warmth, and explanations.

Two out of three wasn't bad.

| An Angel Cycle Story |

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