Chapter 6:

The Director

Archangel Accelerate

Aurora found herself awake in another unfamiliar place, the pale daylight of the shore blinding her vision. Container ships extended out from the port, getting smaller and smaller as they approached the canal locks down the channel, flanked on one side by glistening skyscrapers across the waters. She felt the cold leather on her hands and stretched as she looked around. She was in a car, traveling towards the outskirts of the city.

“Ugh…. where am I?,” said Aurora, weakly.

A woman from the passenger seat of the car handed her a bag of clothing.

“Here. Think you can get it on?”

The woman was dressed in an olive green field jacket, similar to the guards at the hospital. Aurora took the bag. As she woke up, she looked around the windows of the car, getting a view of the residential streets on the outskirts of the city. They were tightly packed, with homes more upmarket than the housing block she lived in, but still had the grit of an urban environment. She pulled out the clothing in the bag. It was a black field jacket.

“Yeah, I can,” said Aurora, clearly exhausted.

“We had to get you out of that safe-house. We’re heading towards our headquarters now, where you’ll be fully initiated.”

As Aurora clumsily tried to put on her new uniform in the backseat, she thought back to her conversation with Dr. Ferdinand. The serum to prevent her seizures could only be supplied but the Administrators, so it wasn’t like she had a real choice in this matter. She could decline, only to die under neural load in a regional jail cell after she accidentally electrocutes a stranger.

“Where are we going? How long have we been driving?”

“Classified information.”

Aurora slumped back facing the window, looking annoyed. This place looked wealthier, sure, but much more private than the inner city. It had none of the UNI remnants that local authorities desperately tried to cling together. Not like it usually worked anyway, it was like a worker bee disconnected from its hive-mind, almost useless without the collective.

Lucy would like a place like this. Wouldn’t have to use those dead drops she is such a fan of. “There’s a lot of bandwidth in a station wagon,” she used to say. Lucy…. I hope you’re ok. I miss you.

The wide streets soon gave away to a tightly packed alleyway, a dark corner hidden away from the upscale apartments that surrounded it. The car elbowed its way towards a wide lot towards the end of the alley, walled in with concrete covered with pipes and graffiti. To the side was a small stairwell leading under one of the buildings. When the car stopped, the woman in the passenger seat hastily pulled her out of the backseat. The car drove away and left Aurora and the woman alone. The stranger looked towards the rooftop, gesturing towards a person standing watch. They walked down the steps and entered a steel elevator. It had a slick, futuristic look, sticking out against the grimy atmosphere of the alleyway. Aurora stared at the retinal scanner alongside the elevator door, along with the crooked patches on the woman’s shoulder.

Man, what kind of technology are these people hiding? If they’re researching relics, I can’t imagine what else they have. As a military though, they seem kinda amateurish.

In an instant, a sharp pain struck Aurora. Her head throbbed as she fell back towards the wall, banging her chest against the metal. Dead static covered her vision.

A-Ah! It hurts, it hurts!

It was like all the information in the world was being crammed in her head. She began to hear a chorus of whispers, all harmonizing into one voice. The voice drifted from a calm, fatherly tone to a booming echo, spoken in a confused and distorted language.

Azrael… is that you…

She felt the prick of a needle and awoke back into the arms of the woman.

“Hey! Are you ok?”

Aurora looked around the elevator in a daze. The woman looked down at her pants, now ripped with burn marks. It was a miracle her handler wasn’t electrocuted.


The woman sighed while looking for injuries or burn marks. The elevator doors opened, revealing a hallway approaching a set of steel doors.

“We’re gonna need to get you an extra set of clothes, at least until you can handle the neural load. Probably a few more things than just clothes. Come on, follow me.”


Overlooking the facility, the Director got her first in-person view of Aurora Aventador. It’s a different feeling to see someone in person. Hearsay, photographs, reports from examinations, she’d seen them all. She felt like she knew her personally, every aspect of her history and personality had been scrutinized by the Administrator’s medical team and reported back to her in excruciating detail. But nothing could draw out the self-doubt like seeing her exciting new prospect being hauled to the barracks, half-conscious and carried like a young child. She saw the reflection of Leftenant Ismat walking through the sliding door towards her, his olive drab grab sticking out against the off-white color of her room. As he approached the Director’s side, he silently looked out toward the bunker. It was dirty and cramped, covered in military trucks and all sorts of weaponry and cargo. It seemed like the dumping ground of a decaying empire, not the central command of humanity’s hope.

“So there she is. Subject 425,” said Ismat, looking to the side. The Director sighed, not averting her forward gaze. The Director was tall, and wore a sharp suit. She had an authoritative presence, but not by choice. She savored any opportunity to show blunt honesty. The relaxed confidence she showed among her subordinates was exhausting. But due to habit, she continued to stand firm in front of her Leftenant, her cane grasped with two hands.

“Yes,” said the Director, sharply.

Ismat exhaled, pushing his bangs up against his head. He would’ve loved to make the sarcastic comment that he usually does, but after a year with their back against the wall the charm had worn off. All that was left was dread. But taking into account their new prospect with where they’ve been, he couldn’t help himself.

“So. We’re taking in dark web occult freaks now. We really exhausted the ex-military pool that quickly, huh?”

“She’s the right one. Her potential is undeniable.”

Ismat looked down, kicking his shoes into the floor.

“Feel like we’ve heard that before.”

“Concerning prospects that hadn’t yet seen Relic combat. She’s seen combat. In the frenzied initial phase of angelic connection, yes, but combat nonetheless. And, she’s motivated. She wants to go to the Firmament.”

“How much persuasion did it take?”

“It was simple enough. You connected to Azrael’s powers, we’re the only ones that can support you. Dr. Ferdinand said there was barely a debate. Regardless, we need people. I’ll do whatever it takes.”

“Seems like a special kind of person.”

“Our organization is full of special kinds of people.”

Looking out into the barracks, they both got a view of Fritz, one of the veteran Relic users. There he was, covered in scars and gray hairs, yet still lacking the self-awareness to not openly flex his muscles in the mirror and loudly compliment his appearance to himself. He extended his liquid metal arm, using it to grab a comb off one of the shelves. Behind him was Xinyi, small framed with her black hair in a ponytail, angrily yelling at her game console in Mandarin.

“So what are you planning?,” asked Ismat.

“Well, we send her out into the field, have her take an outpost. We’ll see what she’s made of, and it’ll let her get a feel of what the Firmament is like. A test run, if you will.”

“You can’t be serious! An outpost? You want her in direct combat already? We can’t afford to lose anyone else!”

“As compared to what, lean her in gently for her to get immediately taken out by Imperium runners? No. She needs to get used to combat, and we need to start taking action.”

The Director looked out solemnly among the command center. Equipment was rotted, storages were being depleted, and initiates were overworked. They’ve become a band of cornered rats, not the caretakers of divine essence they swore to be.

“It’s gone like this for too long. We don’t push forward soon, our days will be numbered. And who knows what level of terror and subjugation our enemies will unleash if allowed to run freely.”


Aurora awoke to a cramped room, lying on the bottom bunk of her new bed. It was somewhat cramped, but with enough room for a desk or two. Unlike last time, she immediately understood where she was and was frustrated at the thought. Passed out, again. She pressed her hands against her eyebrows and hair, making sure they didn’t get shocked off this time. Hearing ruffling above her, she looked up.

Only to see the grinning face of Lucy, who had been staring at her the entire time

“Hey there.”

“LUCY!,” Aurora cried.

“Aurora!,” replied Lucy, leaping off her bed quickly.

Lucy quickly leaped into Aurora’s arms, embracing her. They hugged for what felt like an eternity, even though they had only been separated for close to a week. But the danger they faced gave them a new appreciation for the other.

“Wait, Lucy, what happened? Why are you here?”

“I’m a recruit now, same as you. The outfit they gave me isn’t bad, could be a little cuter though.”

Lucy lept off the bed and twirled around as if she was wearing her usual attire. They both laughed, not that it was even that funny, but to get out all of their bottled-up feelings. When meeting a friend after a period of absence, it feels like everything is funny.

“I still look pretty good, huh? Not bad after discovering the existence of angels and superpowers.”

Aurora smiled. She missed her friend’s sense of humor. It felt like the insanity of the past week had damaged their personalities.

“Yeah, you do. But wait, why did you join? Did they force you? Lucy, please, you don’t have to do this for me,” said Aurora, anxiety and guilt rushing back to her.

Lucy sat down on the bed, now with a serious face. She looked down and sighed, trying to find the right words. It usually came easy, but not now.

“I volunteered.”

“What? Are you absolutely sure about this? I told you, this isn’t your fight. I know I let you come along in the beginning, but this has gotten out of my control.”

Aurora began to tear up. The stress of the past week finally began to get to her. She could barely handle herself being in danger, let alone a close friend. Lucy gently wiped the tears from her eyes.

“Aurora, listen. If Fritz never found us in that alleyway, we would’ve been dead. And the things that woman was talking about, what if it puts us all in danger? You two had to throw everything into protecting me. It’s terrifying to imagine what we don’t know about the situation.”

Aurora looked away, unable to show Lucy the doubt on her face. A mass of terrifying scenarios spiraled in her mind. But, she couldn’t stress the feeling that she was right. Behind the fear of the unknown lurked a more primal fear, the fear of being a failure again. The shame of running away would be too much to bear.

“Maybe you’re right.”

“I just think that… I need to protect my community now that I have the chance. And I need to protect you the best I can. I’m not running away, after what I’d seen.”

Lucy grabbed Aurora’s hands, and looked her in the eyes. That was the end of it. She made her choice, and there was not much Aurora could do to persuade her otherwise.

“Ok,” said Aurora, with a weary acceptance. However, there was more to talk about in her mind.

“But wait, what did they say to you? What will you be doing? You’re not a Relic user.”

Lucy let go of her friend’s hands, and stiffened up.

“Well, they said I had a choice. Either join them, or submit to their surveillance for the rest of my life.”

“Doesn’t surprise me you would choose this then.”

“You know me too well. Not too many other maniacs out there who would help move goods across the channel with only USB dead drops.”

That’s probably why they wanted her to join, thought Aurora.

“So they thought you would be a valuable asset to the team,” said Aurora, sarcastically. Lucy smiled.

“I guess so. But they had already known that. If they knew everything about you, they certainly knew things about me. I procured the Relic for you, after all.”

“So what do they want you to do? They’ll probably gonna have me fight more of those psychos.”

“Help with intelligence, radio support. Specifically…”

Lucy stuck her finger out, pressing it against Aurora’s chest.

“…supporting you.”

“For when I go to the Firmament?”

“That’s right. They figured you’d want a friend on the radio.”

Aurora felt a deep relief, although merely temporary. She’ll be going to the Firmament. It was her main goal for the past few years but was now a source of intense anxiety as it got closer and closer. It was as if she didn’t even care about the goal, but the purpose it gave her. Now that it drew closer, she would have to push her ideals against the hard stone of reality.

“I just don’t know if I can do it.”

Lucy grabbed her hands. Expecting her comforting words, she instead felt a sharp pinch of her finger. As she twitched, sparks twisted and spiraled up her arms and through her fingers, like blood flowing through her body. Lucy pulled away, almost shocked by her friend’s power.

“All the strength you need is right inside you. Besides, we’ve come too far to give up now.”

Her words were comforting and gave her friend a newfound resolve.

She’s right. The path forward lies in this power within me.

“I won’t let you down.”

Lucy pinched her cheeks, just like she usually did.

“Have you ever?”

As they were talking, a tall silhouette appeared in the doorway, casting a long shadow into the room. Aurora turned back, now anxious about what was to come.

“Sorry to interrupt you two lovebirds, but I gotta steal Aurora for a little bit,” said the silhouette.

The tension in the room immediately deflated as the man revealed himself. It was just Fritz, his tan trench coat swinging side to side as he laughed hysterically at his joke. Lucy stood up as well, giving her good-byes.

“I guess that’s my cue too. See you around, Aurora.”


Walking out into the base, Aurora got her first look at the Administrator’s dismal conditions. The military equipment they had all looked damaged, with broken rifles and bloodstains strewn on the back of trucks. It was cramped, as she had to squeeze between boxes of cargo and overworked engineers as she scrambled behind her new mentor. In the distance, she saw the slick chrome of the research team laboratories, their projects a fuzzy blur out in the distance clutter.

“What kind of technology do they have back there? A way to jump over?” cried Aurora over the noisy hustle.

“If you want to call it that, sure. More powerful than any state military, but not nearly enough when compared to our enemies,” replied Fritz.

Aurora caught a view of the Relic tucked under his field jacket. It was a fleshy, gross thing, more like a mutated liver with cirrhosis than any kind of divine artifact. In the corner of her eye, she saw an engineer repair electrical equipment without any use of his hands. He was a Relic user, like her.

“How many people here have the same thing I do?”

“Most of the older members. Newer members, not so much. Imperium has tightened up the supply of artifacts on the Other Side, and we’ve lost a lot of good people. Once you’re dead, the connection is severed permanently, and your Relic turns into a nice source of biofuel. Not reusable, unfortunately.”

The atmosphere of the research lab was clinical and cold, different than the body odor musk that covered most of the central command. Along the tables were an array of different equipment, some using what appeared to be biomass. Wriggling tentacles spewed out of metallic exoskeletons as they walked by. It was hard to tell what was flesh and what was mechanical. In front of a table stood an eye-patched woman with a focused demeanor on her long face. Her lab coat was heavily scuffed, covered in various burns and bite marks. Aurora stood frozen, not wishing to disturb the woman’s flow.

“Go on. She wanted to see the recruit.”

Aurora stepped forward. Instantly, the woman perked up, cleaning up her mess and shuffling tools around. She pulled up a black glove, and slowly walked towards her. Aurora froze again.

“You see this? My masterpiece. Do you see it?!”

She leaned over and stuck the glove in Aurora’s face. It was jet black, with hard leather-like knuckles. It had a flexible screen on the side of it as if it was a wrist computer. The ends of it looked like a plastic bag, stretched out and loose.

“I-I see it,” said Aurora, clearly anxious.

“This, this is art. Don’t act like this fool behind you and abuse my work like it’s some kind of rusted tool. This is an artistic creation, a beautiful synthesis of form and function. Treat it as if you would treat me.”

Aurora stared at her for a few moments. The eye that was there was a bright blue, almost reflective.

“Well, I don’t know who are you,” said Aurora, stepping back slightly. Fritz laughed as she grabbed the glove. The woman leaned back up after giving a sharp look in Fritz’s direction.

“Oh. Well, I guess that’s true. Anyway, this is Nock, your interface out in the field. It has mapping, communication, and medical capabilities. Can get serum injections on demand,” said the woman.

Aurora slid the glove on slowly, gripping her fingers as it snuggled into her hand. It was cold on the outside, but with a warm, flexible cushion within. As she pulled it down towards her elbow, the loose fabric at the end immediately retracted, creating a skin-tight fit on her arm.

“Well, what do you think?,” the woman inquired.

The screen lit up. The background appeared like a sea of liquid crystal, floating in deep blue waters. A prompt appeared, with the UI button having a rounded, solid design.

Welcome to Nock. Our system needs to perform an initial blood test to synchronize our medical biomedical scanners with your body. Please press CONFIRM to engage this process.

“It’ll prick just a little. You’ll get used to it."

Upon pressing confirm, Aurora heard locks disengaging within the glove.

“Ah!,” cried Aurora, feeling the internal needle prick. The display lit up again, the baby blue interface twirling like a sea of clouds as it performed its initial setup.

Thank you. Our biomedical scanners indicate you require a timely injection of a Serphium morphine mixture to prevent seizures during periods of prolonged neural stress due to the influence of divine entities.

Aurora felt her head spin. The word salad was almost too much, even for her.

Infusing now…

She felt another pinprick but was already used to the feeling. Immediately, she felt her muscles relax and her thoughts returned to focus. The woman stood over to the side, looking pleased with herself. She walked over and shook Aurora’s hand.

“Right, I need to introduce myself. I’m Annette, chief engineer around here. How do you feel?”

“It’s comfortable. I like it. What is it made out of?”

“Curious one, aren’t you? That’s Serphium as well, the same element used to prevent your seizures. It’s native to the Firmament, but supplies are running low. But that’s where you’ll come in.”

She handed Aurora another glove, this time without a screen. It compressed into her hand, just like the other glove. Aurora looked at Annette, confused.

“Why do I need two of these?”

Annette laughed. She shot a devilish gaze, hungry for blood.

“Don’t want to break your knuckles out there!”

She walked back into the mess of electronics covering the lab. She threw her hand up, waving goodbye.

“See you later, Aurora. Give em’ hell for me.”


As the laboratory doors slide closed behind them, Aurora wondered what other eccentrics she would find herself in the company of.

“Alright, time to show you your co-workers, so to speak. People like you, other Relic users.”

Great. Here’s the gang of lunatics.

They look in front of a sliding mechanical door, clearly outdated compared to the automatic doors towards the labs. Fritz pulled the latch on the door, unleashing a horrific scraping sound as the door lurched open. Fritz stopped and looked at Aurora.

“Well, head on in.”

Aurora followed his command, only to immediately trip over what felt like a massive pillow.

“A-ah… what the hell?”

In front of her was a pair of elongated, porcelain-white wings. They stood in stark constant to the girl they were attached to, who wore a scuffed sweatshirt with holes on the back for her wings. The girl slowly turned around, her fury slowly coming into Aurora’s sight. She was stocky, with short black hair on top of her square face. The chains hanging off her joggers rattled as she turned to face her target.

“How many times do I have to tell you stupid bureaucrats to move aside when I’m walking? And you ruffled my wings too, asshole. No wonder most of us are dead.”

Fritz strolled in, carrying his usually carefully swagger.

“Take it easy, Xinyi. This is Aurora, the one I talked about.”

“Ah, right. Aurora. Well, I’ll believe your abilities when I see them. If you’re still in one piece.”

Xinyi flapped her wings aggressively and walked away. Fritz leaned over to whisper.

“Sorry about her. She’s uh… a little intense.”

A little intense?, thought Aurora while brushing herself off.

Fritz walked to the center of the room. It was a wide barracks, with small corners for each person. Broken equipment, needles, and IV bags were strewn throughout the room. Some of the walls were broken from Relic abilities, either by accident or in the heat of the moment. There was a general sense of listlessness and confusion. It lacked the maniac ingenuity like in the labs, instead covered by a lingering sadness.

“Alright guys, we got a new member, so listen up!,” yelled Fritz.

The room stood quiet. A few members shuffled in the corner, intensely focused on their VR simulator. Fritz stiffened up, already annoyed.


“Give it up man. You introduce us to new people every month, only to have them die for some stupid reason. Who cares about this kid?,” said a Relic user in the corner, trying to take a nap.

“Well, Marcus, clearly you don’t know who this is. She supported me in defeating Brunhilda, who took out three of our guys last year. It was an amazing sight for her to behold, her amazing mentor getting revenge on his fallen comrades.”

“What, you mean save your ass when you were getting roughed up? You’re losing it, old man,” said Marcus, turning over in his bed to face the wall.

Old man? You little…,” said Fritz, losing his swagger in the face of his disrespectful subordinate.

The two of them immediately broke into a fight, their powers combining into a calamity of smoke. Aurora stepped back, almost slapped by Fritz’s outstretched metal arm. The tour was over. Aurora stepped outside the barracks, looking around the bunker.

Guess I was right. I knew it’d be a group of psychos. I’m gonna die, aren’t I? Bernie… maybe in the next life I’ll see you again.

She leaned against the wall, deciding to people watch. She felt her hand against Nock.

Seems like you’re gonna be the only reliable piece of equipment these people give me. That, or I’m just a guinea pig.

A steel door slid open in front of her, past a row of decaying trucks. A group of engineers walked out, but a bird’s nest of tubes and needles sticking out of the room blocked the latch from shutting. For a split second, she noted that the room was empty. What’s in there?, she wondered. Her curiosity got the best of her. The door slid open as she crept towards it, a safety precaution to keep it from crushing an unsuspecting engineer.

Stepping over a tangle of thin wires holding needles at their tips, Aurora entered a pitch-black room. Small orange lights covered the room. Another step forward brought her face to face with the machine to deliver her redemption. A long capsule, slightly taller than a human, stood in front of her. Flanked on all sides by obscure equipment and vacuum tubes, the interior appeared like a coffin under a glass cover. The terminals surrounding it bled rows of data, twisting the sensor readings into a hazy LCD blur.

What is this… wait. This is how they’re going to do it. This is how I connect to the other side.

Aurora remembered her clandestine project to connect to her Relic and travel to the Firmament. The interface she had at her apartment contained a wriggling mass of flesh, all read to strike at her temple and make the connection to an Angel. That what the vacuum tubes within the capsule were for. As she got closer, she heard the machine breathe.

We are one flesh, whispered an internal voice.

Her body froze at the voice. It was Azrael, calling to her.

Where are you… are you on the Other Side?, thought Aurora.

I am always with you. We are one flesh, the voice replied. It felt like a speaker within her head, echoing all the bone of her skull.

She creeped to the side of the machine, pulling tubes and terminal carts out of her way. The breathing got louder. It sounded wet, as if it was choking on blood. Nock began to rattle.

High neural load detected. Your angel’s gift will activate upon a certain threshold. Prepare for involuntary power activation.

An organic mass peeked from the periphery of her vision as she crawled towards the rear of the capsule. The lights within the room flickered, as lightning rattled down her limbs. Finally, she saw it.

It was a blue, thumping heart, protected by a hive of worm-like parasites. They wriggled slowly, protecting their host. She felt its intoxicating pull. It wasn’t just an organ. It was a portal to another world.