Chapter 4:


Archangel Accelerate

Aurora woke to the smell of vinegar and saltwater. The ambient light of the room stinged her eyes, forcing her to squint as she adjusted to the room. Her surroundings were empty and barren, seemingly an abandoned hospital room. A tight sensation appeared inside of her arm. Sitting up, she felt a slight twitch of pain while stringing up a bird’s nest of tubes stuck to her body. It was an IV bag. Aurora fell back down onto her bed, annoyed.

“Shit,” said Aurora, weakly.

She turned to the side facing the balcony, attracted to the cries of seagulls. The wide ocean spread out from her vision, giving her a view of the skyscrapers across the channel. The balcony, however, was not as pretty. Grime and dust stripped across the sides of the ledge and a dusty lawn chair sat in the corner. Aurora wasn’t a fan of this environment. The cargo cranes and lingering fishy smell made her miss the sunny urban scenes that accompanied her college days.

This lonely awakening would not last long. Two soldiers burst into the room, wearing slightly dusty field jackets. Although their behavior was fitting of a disciplined military, their decorum was more fitting of a militia. Their rifles appeared somewhat old and busted. Standing at attention at each side of the door, a woman in a white lab coat walked in. Her heels and lipstick stood out against the rugged guards behind her.

“Good afternoon. Miss Aurora Aventador, correct? How are you feeling?”

The woman walked forward with a ladylike and calm air to her, as if her role was calming new members as they enter a new world. To Aurora, however, this felt more like calming the pigs as they go to the slaughter.

“…. Where am I?”

“I’ll explain that in just a moment. Amanda, please change her IV bag.”

“Y-yes ma’am!,” cried a voice from around the doorway.

A young nurse anxiously stumbled into the room. Bespectacled and with her hair tied in a pony tail, she began to fiddle with the IV stand. Instead of scrubs, she wore an old fashioned nurse’s uniform, similar to the outdated jackets worn by the soldier at the door. The woman began to check Aurora’s vital signs. Her long red hair lightly twirled in the calm breeze.

“W-what the hell happened back there…,” said Aurora.

“You’re lucky to be alive, Miss Aventador. Not many others could take the neural load that you did without immediately having a seizure.”

“A seizure… wait. What happened to the other guy? Where’s Lucy? Short, blonde hair, she was with me before I blacked out!”

“Don’t worry about that for now. Here, breathe in and out for me.”, said the woman, pressing her stethoscope against Aurora’s chest.

Aurora peeked over to the young nurse, Amanda. Sweat stained her uniform, sticking out against the white fabric. Noticing this along with the cool temperature of the room, she immediately felt a kinship with her. Her temperament reminded Aurora of her younger, unconfident self. That lack of confidence soon turned into a defensiveness as she began to hold her cards close to her chest, hiding away from life.

“So…. that interface, it was in write-mode? It was rewriting my memories wasn’t it?,” Aurora whispered.

“Miss Aventador, please relax. To quickly answer your question, we don’t think in those terms anymore. Those distinctions were coined by military researchers seeking to draw a line between standard VR simulation and the new interfaces being built in their laboratories. What it actually does is rebuild the structure of your mind.”

Rebuild the structure of my mind? What do these people want from me?

Aurora swatted away her stethoscope, drawing the guard’s eyes on her.

“I don’t care what you people did to me, I’m not joining whatever terrorist cult you’re apart of. This was all supposed to be for me and me alone. Whatever your politics are, I want nothing to do with it!,” snapped Aurora, beginning to panic.

“Miss Aventador, enough. Calm down.”

NO! I’m not falling into this bullshit again! My plan was only to see her again, not get wrapped up into something that has NOTHING TO DO WITH ME!

The room fell silent after Aurora’s outburst. Amanda stepped into the corner, unnerved by the patient’s sudden panic. The doctor put her stereoscope back over her neck, and stared back at Aurora.

“Aurora. I understand that you are under a considerable amount of stress right now, but but do not drive us away so quickly. What our organization is proposing is a mutually beneficial arrangement. My research, their objectives, your personal goals, we can all benefit.”

A few moments of silence calmed Aurora down, helped by the motherly nature of the doctor. Turning her head down, but lifting her pupils up with a moody gaze, she decided to listen.

“Ok. What is it?”

“We think we know where Bernadetta Aurelio is. If you help us, we can help you.”

A jolt of anxiety accompanied those words. That toxic curiosity that gradually morphed into a clingy terror lurking from the hazy depths of the past. That name, Bernadetta Aurelio, that would drive Aurora to fling herself into the unknown. And they knew what Aurora didn’t. She sat back on her seat, sweat dripping from her brow onto the white sheets.


“Interested in listening now?”

“……. Yes,” sighed Aurora, now embarrassed.

One of the soldiers walked over and handed the woman a beige folder. She softly moved through it, and began to speak again.

“My name is Dr. Stephanie Ferdinand. I belong to the Primordial Administrators. We specialize in research into the divine and the worlds they inhabit. I’ve heard a lot of about you, along with your past. My organization believes that our goals overlap, and that you would be a excellent candidate for our future operations.”

Stephanie looked down at Aurora’s legs. Under the sheet, they were covered with bruises, protected by a white cast.

“You were able to use a Relic to form a connection to a divine entity. In our search to find you, we grabbed your Relic from your apartment. Azrael, correct? You’re still alive, so it must have taken a liking to you.”

“…. You searched my apartment?”

“It was for your own protection.”

Aurora looked at the doctor angrily.

“I feel like we’ve gone off track. Let’s start from the beginning. Could you please tell me what you were planning to do?”

Aurora looked down, choosing her words carefully. She resigned to the fact that they most likely already knew her entire story, so she decided to be honest.

“I… I was attempting to breach the Other Side. Bernadetta, she disappeared, and I wanted to find her. Stories online told of a woman with jet black hair roaming the Other Side. When I read them, I just knew it was her. And with my skills, I felt like I had the capabilities to do it.”

“We’ve heard the same. What is your connection with her?”

“A childhood friend.”


“That’s all it is. A childhood friend that I was worried for.”

Aurora looked at Dr. Ferdinand intensely, trying to hold a poker face. The doctor pulled out a paper from her folder.

“Well, I would just question that fact that your childhood friend is on the federal blacklist, and you’re on the federal watch list. You two seemed to have been registered seven years ago.”

The blood drained out of Aurora’s face. There was nothing she could hide from them.

“Oh, come on,” muttered Aurora, exasperated. Dr. Ferdinand learned forward, and grabbed Aurora’s hand.

“Aurora. Please listen to me, I am going to be as transparent with you as I can. You have become involved in a very dangerous situation. However, we can protect you, but you need to be as honest with me as I am being with you.”

There was a familiarity to those words. Aurora was reminded of Bernadetta, and her firm, yet kind nature. She didn’t fully trust this woman, and despaired over the situation she was in. It was a feeling that was all too common, as if you were trapped, with all the bright possibilities before you suddenly closed off. But, if this detour could lead her to her to a fateful reunion with her friend, then all she could do was push forward.

“…. Ok. We were members of SDA, that’s how I know her. Student protests, that general strike years ago, we were a part of it. Happy now? What are you getting at?”

“That’s what we already knew. That was the final piece that convinced us that you were the one. A motive to cross over to the Firmament, or what you call the Other Side, some technical expertise, and a lack of connection to the military. We wanted to transition you slowly, but you got ahead of us."

“How long have you people been stalking me?”

“Stalking is a very aggressive word. We were simply scouting out new candidates for our operation.”

“What, bait and switch people to be your guinea pigs?”

Dr. Ferdinand softly picked up Aurora’s arm. She drifted her other hand across Aurora’s skin.

“Do you mind if I pinch your skin? It will hurt, but it won’t be for long. I would like to do a bit of a demonstration.”

“….. Sure.”

The doctor dug her fingernails in Aurora’s skin.


Instantly after her cry of pain, small sparks erupted across her body, rattling the IV bag and flickering the lights above. As Amanda hastily grabbed the IV stand, the bed sheets began to burn, giving them an ashen outline in the shape of a person. Aurora had truly remembered what had happened to her body. She slowly looked back up at Dr. Ferdinand, her face drenched in sweat. They locked eyes.

“What did that thing do to me? What is happening?”

“I won’t get too deep into the specifics now, as you are still recovering, but making a connection to the divine is difficult to do entirely on your own terms. As part of the contract, you have been involuntarily given the power to protect yourself and your new divine partner. We still need conduct our preliminary review, and get you accustomed to your new abilities. I promise you will not be alone in this process.”

“Wait, involuntarily? A divine partner? I thought these Relics were just dead angel flesh, now you’re telling me they’re alive?”

“Traveling to the Firmament does not operate in the same way that magic would. It’s not a catalyst for a spell that is useless after the spell is complete, you have to remain connected as you make the jump over from this plane to theirs. If you don’t, your body and spirit will be irreparably destroyed. We prefer to think of the partners as a guide, someone to shepherd you over.”

“So why didn’t I just immediately make the leap? Seems like it just turned me into a walking power line.”

“Special equipment is required to perform a transfer to the Firmament. A BCI, or a brain-computer interface, as it is anachronistically called, only makes the connection. Unfortunately, we don’t really have the capabilities to determine what “gift” the divine entity will grant, so it’s important to conduct it in a safe space to prevent injury. You did not have that luxury, yet you are still alive. This is very promising.”

And I was ready to do all this in my apartment using a guide that isn’t even accurate. Really cool.

Dr. Ferdinand got up, and collected her notes.

“We’ve talked enough for know. Get some rest, you’ll need it.”

Aurora jumped forth, reaching out towards the doctor.

“Wait! I still have questions, who was that woman? I-I charged right into her, did I kill her? Besides, I didn’t even agree to any of this yet!”

Dr. Ferdinand turned around, and sighed.

“Unfortunately, it appears circumstance made the decision for you.”, she said, pointing towards the IV bag.

Aurora stared at over at the IV bag, not understanding what the doctor meant. Finally, it hit her, and her blood froze. Her sparks flickered.

“H-hang on now, y-you can’t mean…”

“The connection you made with Azrael is permanent, even if unplugged from an interface. The neural load that creates requires frequent transfusion of serum, designed to prevent fatal seizures.”

Below the apartment building, she heard the routine cries of seagulls. Aurora, on the other hand, fell back on her bed, her life permanently changed.

“Get some rest, we’ll talk soon.”

The doctor walked out of the room, leaving Aurora in silence. The soldiers, still in lockstep, clamped the door shut as they exited. Amanda stared at Aurora, now deliriously hanging off the bed. Aurora, breaking out of her trance, eventually stared back.

“What do you want?”

“I-I have to change your sheets, if that would be okay with you,” Amanda said, nervously.

Looking down, she saw the black burn marks on the sheets. The frayed cotton stitching swayed in the breezy air.

“Oh, sorry. I just lean over, right? I don’t think I’m in any shape to stand up right now.”

The nurse’s eyes widened, as her passionate for her craft immediately read on her face.

“Yes! Leave it to me!”

As Aurora leaned to the side, Amanda got a peek at her bruises through her hospital gown. They were patchy and deep, the same color as charcoal. The bruises on her arms, however, were much longer, streaking down her long limbs.

“I-I still don’t know much about Dr. Ferdinand’s research, but…. I feel like you made a good connection," said Amanda.

Aurora sighed.

“It sure doesn’t feel like it.”

“Many of the patients that I worked with under Dr. Ferdinand were…. they… they didn’t come out in very good condition. The fact that most of your broken bones had healed by the time you came into our care was incredible. The being you connected with, it trusts you.”

She’s speaking in past tense. What happened to the other patients? She seems to know a little bit more than she gives off, thought Aurora.

“I see,” said Aurora, slightly twitching in pain as her sheets were pulled from under her.

Aurora stared down at her arm, extending down her long torso. She gripped her fingers, as if she was using a wrist strengthener. Rationalizations spun in her mind.

The Other Side, it doesn’t sound fun. I can’t control the gift I was given, and I don’t think I can get to the end of this with my life. But… for know, that’s ok with me. Besides, who says I was really living before this?

As Aurora stared at her fingers, Amanda stood aside, her work completed.

“Oh, you’re done. Thank you.”

“That girl you were describing, I think I saw her. She had blonde hair, and was kind of short. It was from the corner of my eye, I didn’t get a good look.”

“Lucy?,” Aurora said, sparks flickering as she jumped up. Amanda lept back.

“I don’t know! I don’t know. But, it seems to match the description. I’m not sure how she would have found you, this is supposed to be one of our safe houses.”

She probably followed Fritz after I passed out. Shit, Lucy is associated with these people now. I should have never got her involved. Damn it!

“I see, sorry. Thanks for letting me know,” said Aurora. Amanda sighed, clearly stressed.

“Dr. Ferdinand will be in touch with you soon. Again, please get some rest, you look unwell.”

The nurse hurried out of the room. The door shut behind her, abruptly cutting off the noise in the room. As if returning to an uneasy equilibrium, Aurora found herself alone with her thoughts again.

I guess they’re right. I don’t even remember how many days its been.

A small mirror stood on a table next to the bed. Picking it up, Aurora got a good look at her own face. The bags under her eyes had deepened, crawling further down her long face. She felt exhausted. But, similar to the Sunday evening dread of a office worker, she felt that her sleep would be quickly cut off the moment she awoke. However, not even the thought of soldiers standing over her in the morning could keep her awake as she fell into a deep sleep.