The Neon Cathedral

Fallen Angel

Silk checked the ladder one more time, then climbed up. She paused for a moment and looked around. The sun was still low over the horizon. A few last wisps of fog hung between the hills and defied its rays. Beyond, to the west, the outskirts of the city were barely visible. Silk put the metal sheet that she had cut below onto the roof and then pulled herself up as well. The hole she wanted to mend was not big, but it let moisture in and warmth out. Better to take care of it right away. With routine motions, she affixed the sheet and sealed the gaps. Just a few minutes later, she was done and regarded her handiwork with satisfaction. Then she let her gaze wander over the landscape one last time. She liked the spot she had withdrawn to, even if the reason was not a happy one. She had some peace and quiet here, not only from the occupational force but also from some of the more annoying aspects of city life. The landscape was sparse in vegetation - mosses and heather dominated - but beautiful. Finding enough food was not always easy, but until now she had managed.

Suddenly, she noticed a point of light in the sky. A plane? It was a little too fast for that. The sky was not dark enough any more for a shooting star, except if it was a pretty big chunk. Curious, she followed the point with her eyes. It got ever brighter and bigger, and eventually Silk could make out a longish form. Was that a spaceship? Suddenly the thing showed down and its trajectory became flatter. At the same time, it continued to get bigger - or rather, come closer. It was definitely not a chunk of rock, but a man-made object. It glowed from the friction with the air, but it seemed to be mostly intact. Something that could be a parachute was affixed at the rear end. In front of Silk’s eyes, the vessel continued to fall toward the ground and finally vanished behind a hill. Muffled thunder marked its impact.

Her heart pounding, Silk descended the ladder. A thousand thought rushed through her head. Had she really just seen a spaceship crash-land? Had it had some technical defect? Or had there been a fight in orbit? Was there crew on board? Were there survivors? Would they need help? Was it a ship of the occupying forces or the resistance? She had moved out here to distance herself from the conflict. Should she go to the impact site now, risking being drawn into it again? Even while asking herself the question, she knew that this was exactly what she would do. Her curiosity alone would not leave her in peace. But what was more was the possibility that someone might be hurt and helpless. She looked into the direction one more where she had seen the object fall. It could only be a few miles away. She should be able to teach it within one or two hours. She packed a small backpack with a water bottle and a first aid kit, grabbed a light jacket and, without further ado, was on her way.

She was cresting a small rise between two hills when she saw movement in the valley behind her. She stopped. This could be bad. If she ran into Cruachar, she would be done for. But she didn’t particularly want to be seen by resistance forces, either. At a minimum there would be some uncomfortable questions. She squinted and held her hand up against the sun. A lone figure on a horse was moving in roughly the same direction as she was. She was pretty sure the stranger was human, but the couldn’t tell whether he or she was armed. It was probably just a random person who had also witnessed the crash. Silk decided to keep walking, even if that meant to risk being spotted. At least she was well away from her dwelling, so she would not easily be connected to it.

The rider caught up with her on the way down to the next valley. It was a light-skinned man about her age in simple black and grey clothing. He slowed, and Silk stopped and turned to face him.

“Warm hours,” he greeted. His narrow, clean-shaven face was set in a frown. It did not quite seem unfriendly, merely as if he were thinking too hard about something.

“Quiet nights,” she replied, and held out her hand to the chestnut mare so she could catch her scent.

“You heading over there, too?” He motioned to the wisp of smoke that marked the crash site.

“Yes. Do you know what went down there?”

He shrugged. “No. But I’ve been praying for a sign, and this is clearly it.”

Religious, she noted. That was OK. She used to think that religious people were irrational. Now she knew that everyone was irrational, but everyone had a different way of justifying it. For some it was religion, for others intuition, or love, or whatever. Still, religion was a little scary, because it was so unfamiliar to her. “I see,” she offered, unsure what else to say.

He looked toward the smoke, then back down at her. “Do you want a ride?”

“Yes!” she almost shouted. “Thank you!”

Going the rest of the way on horseback would save precious time. She hesitated only a second to consider whether she could trust him, then she climbed up behind him. There was no way to tell his intentions, but if he meant her harm she was out of luck anyway - he had a horse and she was alone in the wilderness. Better to sit right next to him than five feet below. And for what it was worth, there was a knife in the first aid kit. There was a patch of open space with hardly any vegetation ahead, and the horse sped up to a gallop. She almost held on to the stranger’s hips, then thought better of it. It occurred to her that she didn’t know his name yet. “I’m Silk, by the way.”

“Call me Fischer.” The wind was rushing past them, but he was close enough that she could understand him clearly. “So, are you following some guidance as well, or what are you doing out here?”

“I want to see if I can help. I have some medical training.”

He nodded, or maybe his head was just bobbing along with the mare’s motion. They rode on in silence for a few minutes. Then they reached another rise, and they saw it. It was about 50 feet long and half as wide at the centre. It was divided into two vaguely cone shaped sections, connected at their bases - possibly front and rear. Its surface was mostly black, though part of it seemed to be soot and dirt, with some metallic silver visible beneath it. It had at least one big dent, and countless smaller cracks and scratches, but it was still in one piece. It was lying inside a crater twice as wide as the thing was long.

Fischer gasped and made some sign over his breast with his right hand. “It’s one of them.” His voice was hoarse. “It’s one of the Petals.”

[tbd]

“Our patient is stable for now, but still unconscious.” Silk closed the door behind her and walked over to the kitchen sink. “I don’t have the equipment to do a full diagnosis. It would also help to know what species she - or he - actually is.” She turned the tap on and looked around for anything resembling soap.

The others sat at the small kitchen table. Fischer’s frown was even deeper than usual. “So, what do we do with him?”

Silk opened and closed a few drawers without any success. “She needs some medical supplies, and a doctor if possible. Ideally, we would get her to a hospital.” Of course, that was going to be near impossible. But she did not like the thought of abandoning the poor thing.

Amy lounged in her chair, feet on the table, making a show of her indifference. “You have noticed that this colony is under enemy occupation? Good luck getting some grey dwarf anywhere unnoticed. We already pulled her out of that bloody wreck and got her here. That’s more than anyone could expect.”

“Watch your tongue!” Fischer snapped. “That ship is a holy artefact. We probably have an angel lying in the room next door. I’m going to do whatever I can to help him.”

Amy held up her hands. “Suit yourself. But if you guys are going to save the creature, you should at least settle on a pronoun, or it’s going to get even more complicated.”

Oat folded his huge arms and leaned back. The chair looked like it might collapse under his bulk. “I’m not the religious type, but I kind of agree with the stern fellow here. Angel or not, there’s no doubt that these ships are on our side. They just about wiped their asses with the enemy fleet over Brixton. You’ve all seen the videos. This pilot needs to survive and get back out there. And if it helps,” he added with a piercing look at Amy, “I’m sure the allied forces will pay a handsome reward to the people who rescue an asset like that.”

“Finally someone starts talking sense,” mumbled Amy.

Silk had given up and washed her hands without soap. She was eyeing a dirty tea towel on the kitchen counter when she saw movement outside the window. She ducked behind the tattered curtains and peered out around them. Two figures were approaching the house. “Shit.” There was no mistaking the unfamiliar proportions and pale carapace. “Save your breaths. We’ve got company.”