Chapter 2:


Archangel Accelerate

Aurora rushed out of her apartment complex into the morning sunlight. The stay at home order was lifted a few hours ago, but the streets were still empty and barren. As she walked down the street towards the local bazaar, she looked up at the weather balloons and holographic advertisements that blanketed the sky. One was a sign of civil defense, the other of shameless marketing, but they both had a comforting effect, something stable to embrace in uncertain times. The outskirts of the drab residential district revealed a lush park, full of greenery and small animals. Attacks mainly focused on the residential and commercial districts, with the outskirts of the city approaching the channel remaining relatively unscathed.

As Aurora walked through the park, she began to shake off her early morning drowsiness. Her mind once again realized the impact of what had occurred yesterday, and raced with ideas. The wetware would be pricey, but she would not have to wait if she was searching the bazaar. The anticipation, however, filled her with a restless anxiety, driving her to tear open old wounds. In fear, she closed herself off to her past, but a drive to self-harm led to picking at old scabs. That toxic curiosity, painfully unveiling the truth behind the past, morphed into a hunger to return to the source of her trauma and fear. It was this morbid fascination that brought her to devise her plan of action. But, she shrugged off these thoughts, hoping that the park would allow her a moment to relax before subjecting herself to Lucy’s hyperactive cheer. This wouldn’t last, as she was awoken by the smell of the ocean upon approaching the bazaar. She had strolled faster than she thought, her mind overcome by anticipation.

Underneath the container cranes and rusted signs, Aurora spotted Lucy, who was rather subdued today, somewhat empathetic towards her friend’s anxiety. At a distance, she took note of Lucy's appearance. Although her short stature worked against her, her blonde hair and youthful face stood out among the drab scenary around her. Noticing Aurora in return, Lucy skipped over, her bulky high-tops echoing against the ground.

“You ok? Don’t worry, we’ll be fine!”

Aurora straightened up out of her trance, and pulled her notes out of her backpack.

“I know we’ll be fine, it's the part after this I’m worried about. Come on, let’s go.”

Lucy cartoonishly hopped ahead, causing Aurora to lighten up a bit for the time being. Time with friends is few and far between.

They walked through the cargo containers leading to the bazaar, with Lucy boyishly pressing her face against the makeshift windows. Getting a chill, Lucy burst through the otherside of the exiting crowd, cuddling Aurora’s arm.

“You’re warm, Aurora-chan….”

“Aurora-CHAN? I’m getting flashbacks to the con years.”

“I miss those days so much. The first time I saw you, gawking at the Kleine Hexe figures, typical otaku.”

Aurora brushed off Lucy’s attempts to pinch her cheeks, as her friend continued.

“But everything always seems nice in the past... you’re much more awake now. It’s almost like back then… you came back from some sort of war. From those stickers on your laptop, I think I can get an idea.”

Aurora felt a jolt of anxiety, and snapped back at her friend's nosiness.

“Lucy, enough.”

She pulled out her notes again, hoping Lucy’s expertise would be a helpful guide.

“You know this place way better than me, make sure I’m on the right path.”

“Roger that!”

Passing easily through the guardpost, they neared the end of the container walkway. But after that, the bazaar opened up in an explosion of light. Neon signs, barter, light bulbs hanging from the ceiling, what’s a cramped slum to the untrained eye is a lively community to regulars. Anything you need, whenether it be information or a good, you could find it here, as long as you knew the right people. It was a permanent culture festival, this place, a carnival flanked on all sides by utilitarian complexes and rotting civil defense systems. Aurora, although she’d taken the occasional visit, still gawked at the large TV screens mounted near the pathways, the glossy makeup advertisements contrasting the cluttered swap market beyond it.

Lucy excitedly pushed ahead, chatting up the fashion shops she frequented. Taking this time to get her bearings, Aurora checked her notes once more, then tapped on Lucy’s shoulder.

“Hey, come on, let’s go.”

Lucy hobbled along, walking behind Aurora as she pushed through the crowd. Lucy pointed towards the electronics black market, even giving some trivia along the way.

“So what’re you looking for anyway, Aurora?”

“I need a brain-computer interface.”

“A BCI…. wait. You’ll need one in write-mode. We can definitely get one here, but it might be a search. I’m sure I can find a contact over the channel easily, get exactly what you need.”

“I mean… ok, I’m not sure. You giving me the relic is a little sudden. But! I have my ways, I’ve been saving up some credits for a while, just for this moment. Kinda.”

Lucy sighed at her friend’s quick loss of confidence.

“Can we even do this? I’ve seen the leaks of the military testing this stuff, doesn’t look very pretty. It was from two years ago, but still...”

“That whitepaper is legit. I’ve read the stuff they wrote about their experience on the other side, it doesn’t read like fanfic. I think. Look, just trust me.”

Stopping in front of a tent, Aurora looked within to the rattling light fixtures. Gaining her composure, she pulled out her credit chip, until Lucy slammed her on the back, sending her into the pole and shaking the entire tent.

“Don’t worry! You got this! See? I’m trusting you!”

“Isn’t there an unspoken code of conduct around here!?”

“These tech guys come and go, you’ll be fine.”

Aurora sighed, and walked in. The shopkeeper, a lanky, bespecaled man, was already looking in her direction.

“Was that you?,” he said.

“Oh, haha. Yeah, my bad, haha.”

“Watch yourself. We got fragile parts here. What do you need?”

Aurora walked up to the counter, her body language very clear to the shopkeeper.

“So, uh, I’m, uh, looking for, uh, a brain computer interface.”

“We got some in stock. Let me check the back.”

As the shopkeeper walked out, Aurora sighed deeply. Looking out toward the entrance, she saw Lucy's big, annoying grin peeking over the side, along with a thumbs up.

The shopkeeper returned, holding a tangled bird’s nest of cables and fleshy wetware. Some of it seemed alive.

“Here’s a somewhat new model. Weltschmerz.”

Aurora began to inspect the eldritch horror. Wires, vacuum tubes all stuck out of an iron box, but her eyes were drawn to the parasitic tubes towards the end. A fleshly, wriggling mass of tapeworm-like mouths and oozing scales. Nothing she’d ever seen in this universe. The shopkeeper continued.

“The rules have lightened up. Before, this equipment was only used by the military. Simulations, PTSD, you name it. They got a lot of use out of these things," the shopkeeper explained.

“Wait, I knew they were used for simulation training, but PTSD? That would mean…. this is in write-mode. They were using BCI’s in write-mode?”

“Yep. And now we got them. However, it's dangerous. If you’re not careful, these things can give you quite the terror. Write the wrong memory to your head, you wouldn’t even know the difference. Simulation, now that’s more like watching a movie play in your head. We got one’s that are read-only in the back, older models. Not preloaded, however.”

“No no no! This is good, it's just what I was looking for. I just didn’t think it would be this easy.”

“Yeah, we just got a shipment yesterday. Strange fellows, those wholesalers. Gave me a good deal, real pushy too. Nobody I’ve ever dealt with. But if it's an opportunity to profit, I’ll take it.”

“Uh-huh. Well, I’ll take it then.”

As Aurora paid the shopkeeper, Lucy stood watch outside, observing the crowd in between staring at Aurora’s back. For all her quirks, she was quite street-smart, noticing the same person continuously walk past the shop. In civilian clothes sure, but something seemed off, perhaps out of place compared to the usual gang of eccentrics that frequented this market. Just as Lucy began to question her nearby connections about this, Aurora walked out of the shop with a slight grin.

“We got it. I’ll start working tonight. Have you ever seen this type of thing before? It was that easy!”

Lucy pushed the device back into the bag, and tugged Aurora along.

“I got a bad feeling. Come on, let’s get out of here", said Lucy

“Oh, ok.”

Aurora hurried long behind her friend, still in shock of being able to find her final piece of equipment. Up ahead they saw a crowd of people blocking one of the main streets.

“Unlucky. Come on, this way,” whispered Lucy.

Lucy tugged Aurora along into the side streets, surveying the area around her.

“Lucy, what’s the deal? Why are we in such a rush? What happened?”

“Someone was watching us, and I didn’t recognize his face. Something is up, and I don’t like it.”

Cardboard boxes and garbage crumpled at their feet, as their footsteps were muffled by the active commerce around them. As Lucy began to feel Aurora’s warm breath on her neck, a dark shadow cast around them. Two people, in black robes, slowly surrounded them from the darkness, stopping the escapees in their tracks.

“Hello there. My partner and I would like to talk to you.”

Sweat driped down Lucy’s face. She scanned around, but to no avail. No way to escape without causing a commotion. The cloaked figure in front, a tall woman with bright red lipstick, stepped towards Lucy, overwhelming her smaller frame.

“Back up. We don’t want any trouble, we don’t even know who you are.”

“My, my. No longer the cheery Lucy I see around here? What, you don’t like me?”

Lucy squeezed Aurora’s hand.

“I don’t know you. What do you want with us?”

“Is that really how you treat strangers around here?”

She moved her hand through the shadows, her outstretched finger cutting through the darkness towards Aurora.

“It seems like your little friend Aurora here took the bait. Sorry, it's nothing personal, but it's always good to be…. proactive when dealing with people who get involved with matters that shouldn’t concern them. Now, drop the bag….”

The shadowy woman took off her cloak, revealing her long, jet black hair. Her hands ignited into a purple flame, lighting up the darkness.

“... or I’ll make you."

Aurora and Lucy froze in terror. Flanked on all sides, with a long shadow behind them and a roaring flame gradually approaching them. The inferno slowly approached the duo. The woman’s beautiful face contrasted with the scalding and rotting burns that covered her violet hands. Lucy’s body twitched in pain in front of the fire as she spoke. Aurora couldn’t speak.

“W-What is this…. how?”

The violet flame grew closer to Lucy’s face.

“You might not know us, but we know you. Probably passed our Imperium off as a group of occult freaks, didn’t you Miss Lucy? I guess even the most well connected have their blind spots.”

Lucy stepped back towards Aurora, who felt an intense cold upon her shoulders. She dared not turn around. The flame wisped back and forth in front of Lucy, each gust of wind acting as a dice roll.

“A-Aurora. I don’t think we should mess with these guys. Give it to them, please.”

“Ok, ok. Please stop. Just take it.”

Aurora threw the bag in front of the woman. Her flames extinguished.

“See, no problems. Now, let me remind myself of our bait.”

The woman inspected the iron box, squishing the fleshy wetware with her dangly fingers.

“All that effort, just to get this junk?”

She slammed the box to the ground, fluids spraying over their legs. The woman stepped back, and thought to herself.

“I don’t think we’re going to let you live. After all, you’ve seen my beautiful face.”

An icy chain consumed Aurora and Lucy, spurred by the frozen hands of the cloaked man behind them. Aurora chanted her anguish in her thoughts.

No way. This can’t be it. No way. No way. Please stop.

The duo was lifted into the air, as if hung by a noose. The stinging cold burned Aurora’s lips as she attempted to plead for her life.

“Please, I’m sorry. I wasn't trying to do anything wrong, I’m sorry. I’ll pretend I never saw anything. Please. Please.”

“Your actions have cost the lives of you and your friend. Our future Imperium will be stronger without cowards like you. Goodbye.”

The icy grip gradually closed in on their necks.

No. This can’t be the end. I can’t die with regrets like this. And Lucy…. I tagged her along, it’s my fault. I’ve failed everyone around me. I’m so sorry…

A light pierced the darkness. Aurora and Lucy collapsed onto the ground. The cloaked man behind slammed to the side, scraping down the concrete wall.


A hearty laugh echoed out.

“Bahahahaha! Still at it, Brunhilda?

A metallic spark pierced the air above them, only to be parried by the cloaked woman as she slid back into the shadows. A large, gruff man walked forward from the dust behind them, sporting a piece of angel flesh stitched to his clothing.

“Glad I got here in time. It’s good to meet you, Aurora Aventador.”

N. D. Skordilis